It's Christmas in the NBA, meaning a terrific slate of games are on deck.
It's also a time to sit back and reflect at how the season has gone so far. Which teams have been naughty? And which have been nice? Who can expect a ton of presents in their locker, and which teams are headed for a sack of coal?
Christmas metaphors aside (I promise, I'm done), let's take a deep look into where each team stands.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
Yes, the loss against Toronto was bad, but every team is allowed a stinker. This is as complete a team as you're going to see.
You could argue for adding one more big, but this team is ready to win a title. They're that good.
2. Indiana Pacers
You have to absolutely love this team, the way they commit to defense and unselfish play. No, they're not going to blow out teams, but when you have a nucleus of Paul George, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and David West, you're going to score enough.
We might as well skip forward to the Eastern Conference Finals, since, barring injury, we know it's going to be Indiana-Miami. Why play the regular season when we know the ending?
3. Miami Heat
Miami is shooting a ridiculous 51.5 percent as a team, a number that surely won't last, but is impressive nonetheless.
While that's impressive, this is a team that is ranked last in rebounds. That has to change if they want to beat Indiana in a seven-game series. Unless Greg Oden is the answer, the Heat need to find some rebounding help elsewhere. They will not be able to win another championship without good rebounding.
4. Portland Trail Blazers
The best story of the year, by far. They have the best offense in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge is having a MVP-type season. And Damian Lillard is quickly becoming one of the best point guards in basketball.
I worry that their defense, ranked 22nd in points allowed, won't be good enough to withstand the Thunder in a seven-game series. It's hard to win playoff games in shootouts.
But there's so much talent here and so much steadiness with Lillard that it's hard to imagine them not being competitive in the postseason.
5. San Antonio Spurs
Steady as always. They have a great offense, terrific role players and a lockdown defense.
It seems we can pencil them in for the Western Conference Finals, no?
6. Los Angeles Clippers
It's a bad sign for the interior defense of the Clips when Kevin Love is able drop 45 and 19 on you.
That, to me, is the biggest problem on this team. Blake Griffin is a fantastic player, but he's not much defensively. Are the Clippers going to be able to lock teams down defensively when it matters most? I'm not sure.
7. Houston Rockets
But their defense is ranked 24th in the league, giving up 102.4 points per game. Harden is still an offense-first guy and Howard is clearly not the same player he was when he led Orlando to the finals.
They're a good team, but I don't expect them to get past the second round. There are too many good teams ahead of them in the West.
8. Phoenix Suns
How about these Suns? Eric Bledsoe has been fantastic this season, Miles Plumlee has been a revelation and Goran Dragic continues to play fantastic basketball.
They're a fun team to watch, even if there is no way the team shoots 38 percent from three all season long (just as there is no way Gerald Green is not going to continue shooting 39 percent from downtown).
I have no idea if this is sustainable, but it sure is fun to watch.
9. Golden State Warriors
They should be a lot better than they are, especially with Steph Curry averaging 23.6 points per game and Andrew Bogut looking like the No. 1 overall pick that he was.
They should be better than 16-13 with the 10th-best defense and the 11th-best offense. Maybe it's all about effort, as Mark Jackson told Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com:
"We are not playing 48 minutes with a sense of urgency. That's the disappointing part. Right now, I would say it's not a slow start. We're not playing with a sense of urgency."
Look, the Warriors are a dangerous team, as we saw in last year's playoffs. But they need to get to the playoffs first.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves
Kevin Love for MVP? I'm starting it, right here, right now.
Love is averaging 25.9 points per game and 13.9 rebounds per game. Are you kidding me? He put up 45 and 19 against the Clippers!
Love, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer provide a really nice core group.
With the way he's playing, Love will carry the Wolves to the playoffs. Is there a team in the West that can stop him? Is there a big that can slow him down? I don't think so. I think Minnesota is a team that no one wants to face right now.
11. Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta is a good team that will never get past the Pacers and Heat. Some things never change.
Al Horford is a fantastic player who doesn't get nearly enough recognition nationwide. Paul Millsap was a shrewd pickup, LeBron posterization notwithstanding. Jeff Teague is a decent enough point guard and Kyle Korver can really stroke it from deep.
But they're just not as good as the best of the East. They're a second-round team, nothing more.
12. Denver Nuggets
I don't know what to make of the Nuggets, a team that just lost to the Utah Jazz. They are 15th in every major category except for rebounds, where they rank second (which has a lot to do with Kenneth Faried).
What I'm hinting at is that this is a merely average team. Maybe they can hold on to the eighth seed, but with the Lakers, Timberwolves, Golden State and Memphis all in the mix, odds are they won't. I just don't think they're good enough.
13. Dallas Mavericks
Since their impressive win against Portland on Dec. 7, the Mavericks are just 3-4.
Might I proffer an explanation? How about that defense, one that gives up 102.4 points per game, which is 23rd in the league? Since that win against the Blazers, the Mavs have given up 103.8 points per game.
That's what happens when Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki are on your team.
14. Toronto Raptors
Toronto is 5-3 since the Rudy Gay trade, including a win against Oklahoma City, solidifying the notion that Gay is a good, but not transformative, player.
The team now needs to build around Jonas Valanciunas. They need to surround him with a better point guard than Kyle Lowry and more outside shooting. But there's hope in Toronto, for maybe the first time since Vince Carter.
15. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons have a terrific young core. Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are an awesome 1-2 punch in the paint and Brandon Jennings has played quite well.
But Josh Smith? Only 15.8 points per game for a $54 million contract? That's not good enough. Not even close. And you know what's the worst part? He's actually having a career season. Smith, for his career, averages 15.4 points per game.
Maybe spending all that money on a player who could help you get an eight seed but advance you no further wasn't too smart.
16. Washington Wizards
John Wall and Marcin Gortat are quickly becoming a fine one-two punch. Wall is averaging nine assists per game, while Gortat is averaging 12.8 points per game.
The team is ranked 13th in defense in the league and 19th in the league in offense. So while they're not going to beat the Heat and Pacers, the Wiz actually have a shot at making a run at the playoffs.
This from a team that went 7-34 on the road last year. Not too shabby.
17. New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans is 0-11 against teams .500 or better. Yeah, that's not going to help you make the playoffs.
Anthony Davis is a star and Jrue Holiday averages eight assists, but this is not a team ready for prime time.
And can anyone explain to me the Tyreke Evans trade? Because now, five months later, I still don't get it.
18. Los Angeles Lakers
Hard to say what this team would be without all the injuries. So while it's exciting to see Nick Young play so well, or to see the rebirth of Xavier Henry, this is not the real Lakers.
Assuming we get to see this team as it was meant to be constructed, the Lakers can still make a run. They've treaded water with all the injuries, and are only 2.5 games out of a playoff spot.
Stay patient, Lakers fans. It's not all bad.
19. Charlotte Bobcats
Anyone else finding the Bobcats, dare I say, fun? Yes, this is a team that can really hunker down and play defense. They give up 93.6 points per game, which is sixth in the league. They are 13th in rebounds.
Kemba Walker is a star, averaging 18.7 points per game and 4.6 rebounds.
More is needed, obviously, especially on the offensive side of the ball. A slashing small forward would do the 'Cats a world of good.
20. Cleveland Cavaliers
I think most people expected this team to be better.
Kyrie Irving is a stud, there's no doubt about that. Tristan Thompson is a really nice player. Dion Waiters can score.
Outside of that, though, there's not much going on. Anthony Bennett is a complete and utter bust and Anderson Varejao has seen better days. Even LeBron had a better supporting cast.
21. Memphis Grizzlies
I still disagree with the firing of Lionel Hollins. You can blame a lot of it on injuries, but I think there's a reason the team is just 12-15.
Their defense is still pretty good, as they are seventh in the league, giving up just 97.1 yards per game. But is this a team that is going to go to the Western Conference Finals? No.
I think another scorer would do the team a lot of good. Mike Conley leads the way with 17.3 points per game. Given that their defense is so good, getting some more balanced scoring would help a lot.
22. Chicago Bulls
Obviously, a team without Derrick Rose is not going to very far. A team without Rose for two straight years is never going to be that successful.
But they're still a Tom Thibodeau team. They have the second-best defense, giving up just 93.3 points per game. They are seventh in rebounds. They compete every night.
We can play the "what-if" game as much as we'd like, and yes, this team with Rose could do a ton of damage. But this is a team that can cause headaches for the elite of the league.
23. Boston Celtics
Give a ton of credit to Brad Stevens for getting his team to play defense. They have the fifth-best defense in the league, giving up just 96.9 yards per game.
A team that has Jeff Green as its leading scorer is obviously not going to go very far. But if Rajon Rondo ever comes back, he will only add to the defensive prowess, with his long arms and uncanny instincts.
A few more offensively minded players will do the C's a lot of good.
24. Utah Jazz
The Jazz are 7-12 since Trey Burke made his debut. Not exactly world-beating, but not awful either. The rookie has averaged 13.5 points and 4.9 assists so far.
We're starting to see the beginning of a nucleus here. Gordon Hayward, with his 16.4 points per game, and Derrick Favors, with his nine rebounds per game. And now Burke.
Obviously, there's not much past that. But every team has to start somewhere. With another high draft pick in June, the Jazz could be next year's surprise team.
25. Sacramento Kings
Since being acquired from Toronto, Rudy Gay has averaged just less than 18 points per game. That's not what the Kings were hoping for.
On paper, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins should form a dynamic duo. But the game is not played on paper.
As coach Mike Malone said:
There doesn't appear to be enough effort, enough tenacity, enough intensity. There's a ton of talent on this team. But you wouldn't know it from watching.
26. Philadelphia 76ers
76ers fans have to be absolutely ecstatic with the play of Michael Carter-Williams, who has exceeded all expectations in his rookie season. He's averaging 17.6 points and 7.8 rebounds.
And he's becoming the most important player on this team. The team was 0-7 in his absence due to a knee injury. They won the night he came back.
Look, the Sixers defense is absolutely awful; they give up the most points per game in the league. But they are 12th in points scored, eighth in rebounds and assists. If the defense can ever improve, this is a team that could make some noise.
27. New York Knicks
The return of Tyson Chandler certainly helps matters, as he had 13 rebounds in a victory over Orlando on Dec. 23.
But it's becoming increasingly clear that a team led by Carmelo Anthony is not built to win. There is not enough ball movement, not enough commitment to defense and not enough selfless play.
No wonder they are 9-18.
28. Brooklyn Nets
And here's something else to chew on. Maybe Deron Williams is not the top point guard that everyone thought he was. He's averaging just 12.5 points and 7.6 assists per game. He is not elevating the play of his teammates.
29. Orlando Magic
Victor Oladipo has hit the rookie wall, but there is some hope. Nikola Vucevic is averaging 11.4 rebounds per game. Arron Afflalo is averaging 21.9 points per game. Their defense is only slightly below-average.
So yes, they are 8-20 and are primed for a high draft pick. But they have what looks like a trio of players to help lead the team into the next few years.
30. Milwaukee Bucks
Call me skeptical that a team led by O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight can turn this thing around. The Bucks are 28th in points per game, and Mayo and Knight lead the team with 13.9 points per game.
This is a team that is in need of a star. Maybe Andrew Wiggins is the answer.
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