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NBA Power Rankings: Latest Standings Entering All-Star Break

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIFebruary 15, 2013

NBA Power Rankings: Latest Standings Entering All-Star Break

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    The NBA All-Star break is a short-lived vacation for the NBA community, filled with the weekend’s festivities. However, NBA players, coaches and front office personnel will still have the standings in the back of their minds with the second half of the season on the horizon.

    Teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat will look to keep their foot on the gas pedal by winning consistently. Other teams will fight to retain or attain a playoff berth. Meanwhile, teams in the NBA cellar will either look to better themselves or tank for a higher draft pick.

    So, now that we’ve reached the All-Star break, where does your favorite team land in the power rankings? Is your team in in the driver’s seat, in the playoff hunt or wallowing in the NBA basement?

30. Charlotte Bobcats

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    Overall Record: 12-40 (Last in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 2-8

     

    Even snapping the Boston Celtics’ seven-game win streak behind the exploits of Byron Mullens wasn't enough to hoist the Charlotte Bobcats out of the NBA’s bowels.

    The Bobcats jumped out to a hot start by their standards this season, opening the 2012-13 campaign with a 7-5 record. From there, though, the Bobcats went on to lose 18 straight games.

    As if that losing streak isn’t ugly enough, since Charlotte’s surprising 7-5 start, the Bobcats have a 5-35 record.

    It certainly wasn’t realistic to think the Bobcats could sustain their early success. However, the degree to which they’ve struggled following a respectable start points right back to last season’s woeful record.

    Kemba Walker has shown signs of reaching his potential this season, as he put up 19.8 points and 6.1 assists in the month of December. Unfortunately, the Bobcats won just one game during that month despite Walker’s stellar play.

    Also, since the outburst in December, Walker’s numbers dipped to 17.3 points and 5.1 assists in January, and have fallen again to 12.9 points and 4.9 assists in February.

    The Bobcats simply aren’t a good team, and their record is reflecting that in a big way.

29. Orlando Magic

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    Overall Record: 15-37 (14th in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 1-9

     

    Understandably, the Orlando Magic have struggled this season following the trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers. Although Nikola Vucevic has been a revelation (highlighted by a 20-point, 29-rebound effort against the Miami Heat), the Magic simply don’t have enough talent to compete at a high level.

    The only team worse than Orlando from a record standpoint in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break is the Charlotte Bobcats.

    As if that isn’t disconcerting enough for Magic fans, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, J.J. Redick is on the trade block.

    The sharpshooter from Duke is in the last year of his contract, and he’s playing the best basketball of his career. From that standpoint, it makes sense for Orlando to move Redick for value in return before he has the chance to leave in free agency.

    Redick has been a tremendous spark plug off the bench for Orlando, both scoring and passing the basketball. However, the Magic are going to be a poor basketball team whether he’s there or not.

    If the Magic can land more young talent or a first-round pick for Redick, expect them to pull the trigger on a deal.

28. Phoenix Suns

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    Overall Record: 17-36 (Last in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 2-8

     

    The Phoenix Suns first season without Steve Nash since 2003-04 has been a disaster from the start. Suns management once again decided to replace a superstar with a quantity over quality bunch that included Luis Scola, P.J. Tucker, Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley and Jermaine O’Neal.

    The Suns have no semblance of team chemistry on the court, and no sense of direction off the court.

    Following the decision to fire Alvin Gentry, a coach who took Phoenix to the Western Conference Finals in 2010, the front office promoted Lindsey Hunter (who had no prior coaching experience) as head coach.

    That decision led assistant coaches Elston Turner and Dan Majerle to resign from their duties out of frustration. In fact, according to a USA Today article by Paul Coro, Majerle described the Hunter hire as “a slap in the face” and “a kick to the stomach.”

    The Suns struggle offensively because they don’t have a star player who can create his own shot. They average just 94.7 points per game (22nd in the league), while giving up 99.9 points per game (22nd in the league).

    No matter how you slice it, that’s not a recipe for success.

27. Washington Wizards

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    Overall Record: 15-36 (13th in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 5-5

     

    Washington Wizards fans admittedly didn’t have much to cheer about for a good portion of this season (and perhaps still don’t). Nevertheless, the Wizards have been considerably more competitive since the return of John Wall.

    Despite the fact that Wall has been working on his conditioning and is notching just 28.8 minutes per game (a career low), the Wizards are 10-8 in games where Wall plays. Compare that to the 5-28 record Washington had before Wall’s return, and it’s clear that the former No. 1 overall pick is making a big impact even in limited minutes.

    The Wizards are still lagging in the NBA cellar, as this season seems like a wash. Despite that fact, the Wizards enter the All-Star break on a 4-1 stretch through five games. Not too shabby for a team that was dead last in the NBA for a while.

    The bright side moving forward is that the Wizards can build some momentum with Wall for next season. Who knows, they could be a playoff team in 2014.

26. Sacramento Kings

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    Overall Record: 19-35 (14th in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 3-7

     

    Despite the fact that the Sacramento Kings rank dead last in the NBA in opponent points allowed (103.8 per game), they’ve managed to put together a winning record at home (14-12). That’s more than Cleveland, New Orleans, Washington, Phoenix or Charlotte can say so far.

    Although they are above .500 in home games, the Kings are one of the worst passing teams in the league. Their leading assist man, Isaiah Thomas, leads the team with just 3.3 assists per game on average. The Kings may have a log-jam of guards on the roster, but all of them are score-first options, which limits the offense.

    Fortunately, DeMarcus Cousins (despite the headaches he causes) has been rock-solid once again. His averages of 17.3 points, 10 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game all lead the team.

    It’s safe to say, however, that the Kings would have been much more competitive if they got production out of first-round pick Thomas Robinson. He’s shooting just 42.7 percent from the field as a big man and has a PER of 10.9, which is competing for worst on the team with Chuck Hayes.

25. New Orleans Hornets

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    Overall Record: 19-34 (13th in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 5-5

     

    Ryan Anderson has been fantastic for New Orleans, leading the team with 17.1 points per game (mostly off the bench). Also, Greivis Vasquez has burst onto the NBA scene with a breakout year, averaging 9.4 assists per game at the All-Star break.

    Much like the Washington Wizards, however, the New Orleans Hornets’ season has been marred by injuries to key pieces.

    Unfortunately for the Hornets (soon to be Pelicans), No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis has had an up-and-down year. He’s missed 13 games due to injury and recently had an 0-of-7 shooting performance against the Detroit Pistons.

    Eric Gordon, who was signed to a maximum contract last summer, has played just 18 games.

    There’s a lot of upside for New Orleans, but getting healthy and adding more veterans needs to be a priority moving forward.

24. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Overall Record: 16-37 (12th in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 5-5

     

    The Cleveland Cavaliers are bottom-dwellers once again in the Eastern Conference, and it’s relatively easy to understand why.

    Kyrie Irving missed 11 games in the first half of the season during a stretch from Nov. 21 to Dec. 8. Also, the Cavs lost the league’s leading rebounder Anderson Varejao for the year following leg surgery and the discovery of a blood clot in his lung.

    It’s clear that the Cavs are hesitant to take on any big contracts moving forward because they want as much cap space as they can muster for offseason acquisitions. As is usually the case, Cavaliers fans will have to remain patient.

    Cleveland certainly isn’t built for being competitive in the present, but their future has a lot of options.

    Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio made a point to re-tweet Bobcats’ beat writer Rick Bonnell in early February:

     

     

    Bobcats beat writer @rick_bonnell: "The Cavs might have the fourth-worst record in the league, but I sure like their direction."

    — Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) February 7, 2013

     

    Again, while the Cavs are strapped with role players outside of Irving at the moment, the franchise has set itself up for future success.

    Seeing LeBron James return to Cleveland via free agency may be a pipe dream for Cavs fans who want him to return. Nevertheless, the Cavs have the draft position and cap space necessary to make moves to compete.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Overall Record: 19-31 (12th in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 2-8

     

    The Minnesota Timberwolves have been absolutely ravaged by injuries. They’ve played 50 total games heading into the break, and Luke Ridnour is the only player who has notched minutes in every one of them.

    When you throw in the fact that the T-Wolves' two best players, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, have played just 42 games combined, the problem becomes extremely evident.

    Injuries hit the T-Wolves hard in the first half of the season. Due to that, Minnesota is 8.5 games out of an eighth seed in the Western Conference. They’re looking up at the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers, who are all vying for that final playoff spot.

    Even if K-Love comes back sooner than expected from a broken hand, he’ll have to play phenomenal basketball to give the Timberwolves an outside chance at the playoffs.

22. Detroit Pistons

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    Overall Record: 21-33 (11th in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 4-6

     

    The Detroit Pistons are 6.5 games out of the eighth seed in a weak Eastern Conference. However, they’re looking up at the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers, both of which are playoff candidates.

    What’s working in the Pistons’ favor at the moment is the addition of veteran point guard Jose Calderon. In five starts for Detroit, the Spaniard is averaging 15 points and seven assists per game. That’s not to mention the fact that he’s shooting 55.2 percent from beyond the arc and 56.9 percent from the field.

    Calderon is embracing the chance to be a starting NBA point guard again, but the question remains: Does Detroit have enough firepower to improve?

    At this point, it seems more fruitful for the Pistons’ coaching staff to start giving rookie Andre Drummond more playing time. He’s averaged just 19.7 minutes per game this season, but he’s putting up an impressive 22.48 PER in that time. Unfortunately, a back injury sidelined the big man, and he will now miss the Rising Stars game.

    Detroit would undoubtedly benefit more as a lottery team than a playoff team (lottery pick vs. first round sweep), but if Drummond gets healthy and improves with more minutes, the Pistons could be a dark horse playoff contender.

21. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Overall Record: 22-29 (Ninth in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 5-5

     

    The 76ers are ninth in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ve been able to keep their heads above water due to the breakout year from Jrue Holiday, but they’re still on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.

    It appears as if the Sixers’ playoff hopes moving forward will hinge on the return of Andrew Bynum.

    The big man acquired in the four-team Dwight Howard deal has yet to play a single minute during the 2012-13 campaign. Although he was rumored to come back right after the All-Star break, Wes Szafran of the South Jersey Times hints that a Bynum return could take much longer.

    After saying for weeks that he planned to return after the All-Star break, it now seems like (Bynum) could have meant well after the All-Star break.

    “I’m not sure (if I’ll be back in February),” Bynum said when asked if that was still his goal. “It’s all going to depend on whether we get a setback or not. Right now I think things are going well.”

    The article stated that Bynum is still experiencing pain in his knee.

    Philadelphia has a better shot at making the playoffs if they get Bynum back. However, the 25-year-old's health remains a gigantic question mark.

20. Toronto Raptors

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    Overall Record: 21-32 (Tenth in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 5-5

     

    Toronto has looked positively rejuvenated since adding forward Rudy Gay via trade. The former member of the Memphis Grizzlies has already made his presence felt, knocking down two game-winning jumpers for his new squad.

    In fact, according to ESPN Stats and Information, Gay’s clutch shooting is a force to be reckoned with:

     

     

    Rudy Gay has now made 4 go-ahead FG in last 10 seconds of 4th quarter/OT the last 3 seasons. Only Carmelo Anthony (5) has made more such FG

    — ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 13, 2013

     

    Gay certainly seems to be enjoying the fresh start he’s received in Toronto. Although he’s still shooting at a very low 38 percent clip since the trade, his 20.7 points per game combined with clutch shooting has been a huge boost for the Raptors

    TNT Analyst Steve Kerr weighed in on the acquisition of Gay via Twitter following Gay's game-winner against Denver:

     

    The Raptors are 5-2 since acquiring Gay. Their two losses came against the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat (two teams in the playoff picture). On the other hand, four of their five wins with Gay have come against playoff contenders (Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks). So they're certainly not beating cupcakes.

    Of Eastern Conference teams on the outside looking in at a playoff berth, the Raptors appear to have the best chance at rising.

19. Dallas Mavericks

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    Overall Record: 23-29 (11th in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 5-5

     

    The Dallas Mavericks had a tough time weathering the storm with Dirk Nowitzki sidelined. Now that he’s returned, the Mavs have continued playing mediocre basketball.

    The problem for Dallas, which has been the case since Tyson Chandler left, is defense. The Mavs rank 28th in the league in opponent points allowed (102.8 per game). They’ve been a solid offensive team, but if they don’t get any stops, they won’t put themselves in a position to win.

    In addition to the poor defense, Dallas has had a hard time executing in clutch situations. One of the problems, as ESPN’s Tim MacMahon points out, is O.J. Mayo’s turnovers.

    Via MacMahon’s article, “(Mayo) has eight turnovers in the final two minutes of one-possession games.” That’s simply not going to get the job done.

    Dallas still has a shot at making the playoffs, but targeting free agency in 2013 is probably what Mark Cuban and Co. have in mind.

18. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Overall Record: 25-28 (Ninth in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 3-7

     

    Portland may have surprised some members of the NBA community with its play thus far, but it undoubtedly has a talented team behind the exploits of All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and Rookie of the Year front-runner Damian Lillard.

    Despite their solid play to start the 2012-13 campaign however, the Trail Blazers have an evident red flag.

    Lillard, Aldridge and J.J. Hickson have played great basketball for Portland up to this point. Unfortunately, because the Trail Blazers have been getting close to zero production off the bench, the starters have been logging huge minutes.

    As a result of notching the fewest minutes of any bench in the NBA (13.3 per game), the Trail Blazers second unit is scoring the fewest points of any bench by an incredibly wide margin, according to HoopsStats. Portland scores just 16.9 points per game off the bench, which is nearly 10 points lower than the league’s next lowest scoring bench (Indiana at 25.5 points per game).

    Basketball is a team sport for a reason. If the Trail Blazers don’t start getting production and minutes off the bench to rest the starters, those starters are going to run out of gas.

    That may be especially true for Lillard, who is playing the first 82-game stretch of his basketball career.

17. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Overall Record: 25-29 (10th in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    Relative to team expectations, no team in the NBA has underperformed quite like the Los Angeles Lakers. Even in recent wins against the Charlotte Bobcats and Phoenix Suns, the Lakers have looked downright bad. They won those two contests (against the worst team in the east and the worst team in the west) by a combined 13 points.

    The Lakers were expected to compete for a championship in 2013. As it stands, they’re scratching and clawing for an eighth seed.

    A combination of injuries, coaching changes and a lack of team chemistry has led the Lakers to struggle. Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard have all had to reinvent themselves in one way or another, and they’re still trying to find the right formula.

    The Lakers have all the talent available to win, but if they don't get it together in the second half, their season will be considered a miserable failure.

16. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Overall Record: 26-25 (Eighth in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 4-6

     

    As one of the Eastern Conference bubble teams, the Milwaukee Bucks still have more to prove in the second half of the season.

    The backcourt tandem of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis has led the charge for Milwaukee, as both of those players are averaging more than 18 points per game.

    Blocked-shot specialist Larry Sanders has had a breakout year so far for the Bucks, but a back injury has kept him sidelined for the past four games. In spite of his absence, Milwaukee still has a post presence due to the play of Samuel Dalembert.

    In the four games Sanders has missed, Dalembert has posted three double-doubles and blocked 12 shots.

    Even though Dalembert has played well to replace Sanders, the Bucks have a 1-4 record in the five games Sanders has missed this season.

    Milwaukee will look to hang on to their playoff seed following the All-Star break. If Dalembert continues to play well in Sanders’ absence, the coaching staff should consider playing both guys simultaneously as a two-headed defensive monster.

15. Atlanta Hawks

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    Overall Record: 29-22 (Sixth in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    The Atlanta Hawks have put together a highly respectable start to the season considering the addition-by-subtraction Joe Johnson trade. The Hawks jumped out to a 20-10 record, but a four-game losing streak after that mark, coupled with up-and-down results against a variety of opponents, has left Atlanta at 29-22 with the sixth seed in the east.

    The Hawks have made a habit of losing to inferior teams (Cleveland, Washington and New Orleans, to name a few). They’ve had some big wins along the way, but losing to lesser opponents needs to change moving forward.

    That said, approximately 90 percent of the “news” coming out of Atlanta includes Josh Smith and trade rumors/speculation. The talented forward is in the final year of his current contract, so the rumors make sense considering he could leave for nothing in free agency.

    Also, the Hawks reportedly have not had contract talks with Smith, according to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

    With Smith, the Hawks appear to be a playoff team. If they decide to trade him before the deadline, we could see a different narrative.

14. Golden State Warriors

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    Overall Record: 30-22 (Sixth in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 4-6

     

    Mark Jackson’s Golden State Warriors have been one of the true surprise teams in the Western Conference this season. Although there was reason to believe they’d be improved, I don’t think anyone thought they’d be as good as they have been (especially considering injuries to Andrew Bogut and Brandon Rush).

    The Warriors have been playing extremely well, but taking a five-game losing streak into the All-Star break has to sting their pride.

    It’s true to say that the Warriors ran into a tough schedule before the All-Star break. They racked up losses against Houston (twice), Oklahoma City, Memphis and Dallas. All of those teams appear playoff-bound, excluding the Mavs.

    Although the tough schedule is an excuse, the Warriors won’t be taken seriously if they lose consistently to contenders.

    Golden State has raised some eyebrows, but they need to bounce back from this losing streak and keep up the winning trend following All-Star weekend.

13. Houston Rockets

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    Overall Record: 29-26 (Eighth in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    James Harden and the Houston Rockets stumbled into the All-Star break, alternating wins and losses since Feb. 5. They end up higher than the Warriors in the power rankings because they stomped Golden State 140-109 and beat them again 116-107 over a seven-game span.

    The Rockets have been one of the league’s most dangerous teams on the offensive end, as they rank second in the NBA in points per game (106.1). They give up a ton of points on the defensive end, but they’re usually capable of outscoring opponents due to Harden’s aggressive play and contributions from all over the roster.

    Head coach Kevin McHale has done a tremendous job molding this young roster into a highly competitive team, but you get the feeling that the Rockets need more veterans for guidance.

    The team’s three leaders, Harden, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, are all experiencing their first season as regular NBA starters. Their inexperience and a ridiculous nine turnovers per game averaged amongst the three of them may end up costing them more games than they can afford.

12. Chicago Bulls

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    Overall Record: 30-22 (Fifth in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 4-6

     

    With a 4-6 record in the 10 games leading into the All-Star break, the Chicago Bulls are tied with the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks in terms of having the worst record among playoff teams over their past 10 contests.

    The Bulls faced an extremely tough schedule to start the month of February. Every team they faced in February leading up to the All-Star break is currently in the playoff picture. The road certainly has not been easy for Chicago, but that’s especially true when you consider the Bulls have played every game this season without their team MVP, Derrick Rose.

    There had been rumblings that D-Rose would make his return to the court following the All-Star break. Seeing how well Chicago has played without him, it’s safe to assume they’d be downright scary with Rose back in the lineup.

    Unfortunately for Bulls fans, ESPN’s Nick Friedell put a damper on Valentine’s Day by writing that Rose may consider sitting out the entire 2012-13 season.

    The Bulls are a playoff team without question. If they intend to compete for a championship, though, they’ll need Rose to return at full health.

11. Utah Jazz

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    Overall Record: 30-24 (Seventh in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    The Utah Jazz have put together a rather bizarre first half to the 2012-13 campaign. They’ve been under .500, at .500 and over .500. They’ve had winning streaks and losing streaks. They’ve beaten great teams (Miami and Oklahoma City), but they’ve also lost to bad teams (Sacramento, Phoenix and New Orleans).

    As a result of those factors, it’s difficult to gauge exactly where the Jazz stand in the grand scheme of things. However, their advantage in the frontcourt and their ability to rebound the ball makes them a threat to beat the NBA's best teams on any given night.

    Utah is in position to make the playoffs, but the front office has a big decision to make regarding Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.

    Both big men are set to become free agents at season’s end. If the Jazz decide to ride out the year without trading one of those guys, the chances they keep both moving forward is remote at best.

    With Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter on the bench however, Utah may be able to swing a deal and still make the playoffs.

10. Brooklyn Nets

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    Overall Record: 31-22 (Fourth in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 5-5

     

    The Brooklyn Nets certainly have not been overwhelming as of late. That said, they beat three solid teams in the month of February: Chicago, Indiana and Denver.

    They have a 17-8 overall record since P.J. Carlesimo took over as head coach.

    Even though Deron Williams missed the last two games before the break due to ankle inflammation, the Nets managed to win both contests without him. Both Williams and Joe Johnson have been less than stellar in terms of shooting efficiency, but that makes you wonder just how good this Nets team can be if they find their groove.

    Brooklyn needs both of those guys to improve moving forward if they hope to compete with Miami in the postseason. The Heat have beaten them by a combined 63 points in three games. That's ugly no matter how you look at it.

9. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Overall Record: 33-18 (Fourth in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    By trading Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors, the Memphis Grizzlies may very well have thrown the championship aspirations they had in the toilet (even though Gay hasn't shot the ball well this year).

    Sure the Grizzlies weren’t favorites to come out of the west, but their great frontcourt gave them a fighter’s chance.

    The Grizzlies are one of the league’s best defensive teams. They allow just 90.2 points per game (good for second in the league), and are second in the league in steals at 8.9 per game.

    The team may have gotten better defensively with the addition of Tayshaun Prince to replace Gay, but they lost a lot of offensive firepower.

    The Grizzlies are 4-3 since the Gay trade, a record that includes an ugly loss to the lowly Phoenix Suns. Memphis hasn’t been bad without Gay, but the trade certainly wasn’t an improvement.

    It appears as if Memphis is already looking toward a future of rebuilding.

8. Boston Celtics

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    Overall Record: 28-24 (Seventh in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 8-2

     

    It’s safe to say that the Boston Celtics thrive under adversity.

    Despite losing Rajon Rondo (ACL), Jared Sullinger (back) and most recently Leandro Barbosa (ACL) for the remainder of the season, the Celts have stepped up in a big way.

    Boston rattled off a seven-game win streak behind the exploits of two future Hall of Famers: Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Of all teams in the NBA, the Charlotte Bobcats snapped that streak. Although that loss looks bad on paper, it was the second game of a back-to-back for the injury-riddled Celtics, and they only lost by three points.

    The C’s bounced back again by beating Chicago despite scoring just 71 points.

    The Celtics are going to need to dig deep once again following the loss of Barbosa. Nevertheless, an 8-2 record in their past 10 games despite a slew of injuries is impressive.

    We’ll have to see if Boston can keep up the pace, but their recent performance has them climbing the power rankings.

7. Denver Nuggets

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    Overall Record: 33-21 (Fifth in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 7-3

     

    Danilo Gallinari has started to play much better, Andre Iguodala finally seems more comfortable in a new system and Corey Brewer has carved a niche in Denver as a rock-solid sixth man.

    There’s no question that the Denver Nuggets are playing the best basketball of the season heading into the All-Star break. A six-game win streak in January followed by a nine-game win streak from Jan. 20 to Feb. 9 has bumped this team up to the fifth seed in the Western Conference.

    The Nuggets continue to be a hyper-offensive squad built around great passing and teamwork, but they could stand to improve on the defensive end, where they rank 26th in opponent points per game.

    They’ve been phenomenal at home (22-3), but admittedly lackluster on the road (11-18).

    Like many teams in the west, when compared to the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and even the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver doesn’t quite live up to that level of talent. Nevertheless, they’re a fun, up-tempo team to watch.

    Don't be surprised if Denver pulls an upset when playoffs roll around.

6. Indiana Pacers

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    Overall Record: 32-21 (Third in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    The Indiana Pacers, compared to many all offense, no defense teams (Houston, Denver, etc.) appear as the “Bizarro World” opposite.

    The Pacers rank No. 1 in the NBA in opponent points allowed. Ridiculously enough, Indiana gives up just 89.9 points per game. Again, just so we’re clear, they don’t even give up 90 points on average. There are plenty of teams who strive to give up less than 100 points on a nightly basis; the Pacers take that a full 10 points lower.

    Additionally, the Pacers rank No. 1 in the NBA in rebounds per game at 45.8. That’s truly remarkable considering they don’t play at a breakneck pace like other NBA teams.

    What continues to hold the Pacers back, though, is their offense, as they rank 28th in the NBA by scoring 92.8 points per game. The only other playoff-bound teams in the bottom third of the NBA in scoring are the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies.

    A big reason for Indiana’s offensive woes is Roy Hibbert. The 7’2” center has been great defensively once again, but he’s shooting a paltry 41.3 percent from the field. At his height, that’s unacceptable.

    When Danny Granger makes his return to the court, Indiana may be able to solve some of their offensive shortcomings. If they can do that while remaining dominant on defense, they could be downright scary come playoff time.

5. New York Knicks

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    Overall Record: 32-18 (Second in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    The New York Knicks may be one of the oldest teams in the league, but their “old guys” are getting the job done while the younger guys lead the way.

    Behind an MVP-caliber season from Carmelo Anthony, and J.R. Smith making a strong case for Sixth Man of the Year honors for his heroics off the bench, the Knicks are relevant for the first time in a long time.

    Oddly enough, despite the Knicks great success this season, they rank 29th in the NBA in assists per game at just 19.7 per contest. With Anthony and Smith as the primary scorers, New York relies heavily on isolation scoring.

    Whether or not that’s a structure that can work come playoff time remains to be seen.

4. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Overall Record: 39-17 (Third in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    No player in the NBA has proved himself more valuable to his team than Chris Paul has for the Los Angeles Clippers. LeBron James is still the best player in the NBA, but CP3 means a gargantuan amount to the Clippers.

    Prior to CP3’s arrival, the Clips went 32-50. The following season with Paul, the Clippers finished 40-26 during a lockout-shortened year. When he’s been sidelined this year, the Clippers are 4-6.

    The Clippers’ tremendous depth and ability to play all 12 men on the roster while remaining competitive is a huge advantage.

    Moving forward, though, the Clippers simply need to be healthy come playoff time.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Overall Record: 39-14 (Second in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    Even though the Oklahoma City Thunder have been phenomenal this season, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Co. can’t be happy about taking a two-game losing streak into the All-Star break. Getting beaten rather handily at home by the rival Miami Heat stings the pride even more.

    OKC shouldn’t be defined by two regular season losses to Miami. Even so, those losses won’t give them a psychological edge if they find themselves in an NBA finals rematch.

    That said, the Thunder are undoubtedly one of the top three teams in the NBA. There are plenty of games left to be played, but coming out on top of a strong Western Conference in the playoffs won’t be a cakewalk, even for the hyper-athletic Thunder.

2. San Antonio Spurs

30 of 31

    Overall Record: 42-12 (First in Western Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 9-1

     

    The San Antonio Spurs may be better built for the regular season compared to the playoffs, but even with key injuries to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili throughout the season, this team has remained extremely competitive.

    In my mind, there’s no reason why Gregg Popovich shouldn’t be named NBA Coach of the Year once again.

    Regardless of whether the Spurs are starting Tim Duncan or Tiago Splitter, Tony Parker or Nando de Colo, opponents must take San Antonio seriously regardless. That’s a huge testament to Popovich’s phenomenal ability to coach his players and put them in the best position to win games.

    The Spurs enter the All-Star break on a three-game win streak, coupled with a 9-1 record in their past 10 games.

1. Miami Heat

31 of 31

    Overall Record: 36-14 (First in Eastern Conference)

    Last 10 Games: 9-1

     

    Miami, behind the sheer dominance of LeBron James, ride an NBA-best seven-game winning streak into the All-Star break. Even sweeter for Miami, they were able to cap off that seven-game stretch by beating Oklahoma City on the road.

    While James and the Heat are playing their best basketball at the moment, even the current No. 1 team in the power rankings has an evident Achilles heel.

    Miami may have a 36-14 record to lead the Eastern Conference, but the Heat rank dead last in the NBA in rebounds per game. They grab just 38.7 boards per contest.

    As a result, great rebounding teams like the Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies and Utah Jazz have had success against the defending champs (Indy has beaten them twice).

    So even though the Heat have the best basketball player on the planet on their roster, their spot atop the NBA power rankings at the midway point is far from safe.

    Of course, in the end, all that matters is who hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy.

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