The NBA All-Star break is a time for rest, relaxation and ridiculous displays of the kind of basketball we don’t get to see in the regular season. It’s also a time for reflection.
With less than 30 games left on the schedule, the playoff picture has already taken shape for most of the teams in the league. The elite squads in the NBA are priming for a playoff run, while the bottom half of the league is in the process of looking ahead to the future.
The NBA trade deadline is fast approaching. With the window closing on February 21, we’ll likely see some major shake-ups in the coming days. Let’s take a look at where each team stands with the All-Star break in the rear-view and the trade deadline dead ahead.
1. San Antonio Spurs
There’s really no doubting the Spurs right now. Tony Parker is playing some of the best ball of his career, and San Antonio continues to roll through just about everyone. If the Spurs can make any kind of deal before the deadline, there’s no question they will cruise through the next 30 games of the season en route to the No. 1 seed in the West.
2. Miami Heat
With the best player on the planet playing at an even higher level than normal, no one is going to slow down the Heat. Miami has ripped off seven straight wins while LeBron James continues to torch everyone at a record pace. We’ll see if the All-Star break slows King James’ momentum, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
Two losses heading into the All-Star break slowed the Oklahoma City’s momentum after compiling four straight wins by 20 or more points.
Kevin Durant and company are still in prime position to make a strong push to close out the final 29 games on their schedule, but they’ll have to find a way to put their foot on the gas and put away inferior opponents that have hung a few losses on the Thunder in recent weeks.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
Mounting injuries led to a 3-8 skid from January 21 to February 8, but the Clippers have since posted four straight wins by an average margin of 16.25 points. It was evident how much Los Angeles missed Chris Paul, but with the All-Star break now in the rearview, the Clippers should look like a fresh team with something to prove in their final 26 games.
5. Denver Nuggets
No team in the league needed some days off more than Denver. The Nuggets were one of the hottest teams in the league after running away with nine straight wins, but they dropped their last three, including a tough triple-overtime loss to the Boston Celtics on February 10.
They’ll have another shot at Boston on Tuesday, though, and a win would go a long way toward building momentum for a late-season push.
6. New York Knicks
New York is an enigmatic team. The Knicks rank No. 22 in rebounds per game, No. 29 in assists per game and No. 10 in points scored, but they continue to hold opponents to under 96 points per game and find ways to win games. As long as their defense holds up and Carmelo Anthony continues to average 28.6 points per game, the Knicks aren’t going away in the East.
7. Memphis Grizzlies
The Rudy Gay trade doesn’t seem to have done much to slow the Grizzlies. They’re 4-2 in their last six with some very winnable games on the slate to finish out the month. If Memphis can get through the next week without a major setback, it will be in good position to stay ahead of the Nuggets in the playoff race in the West.
8. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers continue to crash the boards and play shutdown defense as well as any team in the league.
They rank first in both categories, and they’re getting production from all over the floor. Indiana has played well against the elite teams in the league this season, but it will face a stretch of quality opponents exiting the All-Star break.
The next three weeks will tell us a lot more, but the Pacers are primed for a big finish to the season.
9. Golden State Warriors
Five straight losses heading in to the All-Star break are never a good sign, and the Warriors face San Antonio, New York and Indiana in their next six games. Golden State is built like a team that can do some damage in the playoffs, but the Warriors better hope they can stay above Utah and Houston to avoid matching up with one of the two top-tier teams in the West come playoff time.
10. Chicago Bulls
There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Bulls right now. They look like a team that can contend with anyone in the league—even with Derrick Rose on the shelf—but they’re, no doubt, a much stronger team with Rose in the fold. Should he return to action and find a way to gel with the team before the playoffs, the East will be a whole lot scarier when the playoffs roll around.
11. Houston Rockets
You know what you’re going to get from the Rockets from night to night. Houston can score more points than any team in the league, but they also allow 103.3 points per game (No. 29 in the league). James Harden is playing some fantastic basketball, but Houston will need to get some quality production on the defensive end of the floor to better its 29-26 record with the playoffs just 27 games away.
12. Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn is a streaky team. Unfortunately for the Nets, they’re not exactly on a tear right now. They managed to edge out Indiana and Denver to build some momentum heading into the All-Star break, but one has to wonder how serious they are about adding another frontcourt scorer before the February 21 deadline. That might be the only way the Nets are going to contend for a title this summer.
13. Boston Celtics
The fate of Boston’s season continues to hang in the balance. The Celtics lost Rajon Rondo to a season-ending ACL tear, then proceeded to win eight of their last nine games heading into the break.
Rumors of potential trade deadline deals continue to swirl, but if the Celtics can play like they have been in the last two-plus weeks, they should be more concerned with loading up for the playoffs than blowing up the roster for the future.
14. Utah Jazz
The next few days could decide Utah’s season. With a 30-24 record and the seventh spot in the West right now, the Jazz could easily jump Golden State or fall below Houston in the coming weeks. As a fringe playoff contender, Utah may decide to do some wheeling and dealing before the trade deadline, but we’ll have to wait to see how any potential moves will affect the team going forward.
15. Atlanta Hawks
It’s hard to get a read on the Hawks’ playoff chances this season. They join a group of five teams that could flip-flop in the standings multiple times before the end of the year, and they haven’t exactly beaten a ton of quality teams this season.
As is the case with a lot of other fringe contenders, the trade deadline could make or break Atlanta’s season, but I just don’t see the Hawks being a big factor should they make the playoffs.
16. Los Angeles Lakers
It’s only right that the Lakers head up the spot in the rankings for the best team in the bottom half of the league. The inconsistency in Los Angeles is maddening, and for all the talk of turning things around, the Lakers are running out of time to do so. At 25-29 and 3.5 games out of the playoff race in the West, it’s time for the Lakers to get moving forward or start looking ahead to some tough decisions this summer.
17. Milwaukee Bucks
A terrible stretch of games heading into the All-Star break relegated the Bucks to the dreaded No. 8 position in the East. Milwaukee was in good position to shake things up down the stretch, but a 2-6 stretch in the last two-plus weeks means the Bucks probably aren’t going to be in a position to do much damage should they sneak into the playoffs.
18. Portland Trail Blazers
With Houston playing some pretty good basketball right now and Portland 3-7 in their last 10, it’s looking more and more like the Trail Blazers will be the cutoff for missing the playoffs in the West. They still have 29 games to play, but they haven’t given any indication they can play consistently enough to avoid five-game losing streaks like they currently possess exiting the All-Star break.
19. Toronto Raptors
I fully expect the Raptors to continue clawing their way up the power rankings in coming weeks. The Raptors have had new life in their last four games, topping the likes of Indiana, New York and Denver in that span. They aren’t a playoff contender this season, but the future is looking a lot brighter for the them right now.
20. Dallas Mavericks
A 5-5 record in their last 10 games is the perfect way to describe Dallas’ season. The Mavericks won’t be making much of a splash in the West down the stretch, and it remains to be seen what Mark Cuban has in store for the roster with just a few days remaining before the trade deadline.
21. Detroit Pistons
If Detroit can find a couple scorers in free agency this summer, the Pistons will be a dangerous team in the coming years. They continue to play quality defense, but the Pistons can’t find enough scoring to consistently put up more than 95 points per game. The future is looking bright, but it’s not going to happen this season.
22. Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia is yet another team that failed to capitalize on an important stretch of games heading into the All-Star break. The 76ers had a chance to threaten for the No. 8 spot in the East in the last couple weeks, but a 5-5 stretch in their last 10 (including losses to Indiana, LA Clippers and Milwaukee in their last four) mean they’re now a long shot to sneak into the playoffs down the stretch.
23. Washington Wizards
John Wall has breathed new life into the Wizards since his return. He’s averaging 14.7 points and 7.3 assists in just 28.8 minutes per game, and the Wizards are 5-5 in their last 10 contests. The next two weeks will present a difficult stretch of games, though, and Washington should just hope to see continued improvement to finish out the season.
24. Minnesota Timberwolves
The second half of the season hasn’t been kind to the Timberwolves. They’ve dropped 11 of their last 13, and any hopes of a playoff push are now in the rearview. Don’t expect it to get any easier with Oklahoma City, Golden State and Miami on the schedule in the next seven games.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers
It’s hard to not be impressed with what the Cavs have done with their young talent this year. Cleveland still has a lot of room for improvement, but Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson proved during the All-Star break why Cleveland has a lot to look forward to in the coming years.
26. Phoenix Suns
With just two wins in their last 10 games, the Suns have fallen into the basement of the Western Conference. They’re averaging just 83.5 points in their last four games, and the Suns don’t look to be in any position to make much of an impact in their final 29 games.
27. Sacramento Kings
Sacramento is dead last in defense this season, and it isn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, either (96.8 points per game). A 3-7 stretch in their last 10 dropped the Kings to 19-35, just 1.5 games ahead of Phoenix for the last spot in the West.
28. New Orleans Hornets
The Hornets have come on strong as of late, ripping off four wins in their last five games before the All-Star break. New Orleans has a chance to finish the season strong with several mediocre opponents peppering the final 29 games of the schedule.
29. Orlando Magic
Orlando is just three games ahead of Charlotte for the worst record in the league, and two wins in their last 16 contests haven’t exactly helped the cause. It’s probably time for Magic brass to get a head start on draft preparations.
30. Charlotte Bobcats
Ranked No. 23 or worse in rebounds, assists, points per game and points allowed, it’s easy to see why Charlotte brings up the rear in the rankings. Two wins in their last 10 games is actually an improvement, though, and they have a chance to play the spoiler role down the stretch against some fringe playoff contenders.