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2014 NBA Power Rankings: How Teams Look Closing in on the All-Star Break

Zach GillilandFeatured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2014

2014 NBA Power Rankings: How Teams Look Closing in on the All-Star Break

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    Kevin Durant and Paul George are leading two of the best teams in the NBA this season.
    Kevin Durant and Paul George are leading two of the best teams in the NBA this season.Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

    The Oklahoma City Thunder are among the hottest teams in the league right now, while teams like the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat still look good as we near the playoffs in a few months.

    Teams like the Portland Trailblazers and Phoenix Sun will continue to quietly sneak up on people, and teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets are trying to make their offseason moves pay off.

    These rankings took into account teams' overall records, body of work and offensive/defensive rankings.

    Overall records were considered a good bit, but I looked more into the big victories that teams have had this season.

    Offensive and defensive rankings compared to the rest of the NBA were also very important because they shows how well teams can match up with other top teams.

    Enough talk, let’s get started with the countdown.

30. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Milwaukee owns the worst record in the NBA at 8-39.
    Milwaukee owns the worst record in the NBA at 8-39.Fernando Medina/Getty Images

    Record: 8-39

    Key Victories: @Washington, @Chicago

    Why I Have Them There: The Bucks are the worst team in the league, and there’s no doubt about it. They have won only eight games this season and don’t really have a true scorer.

    Brandon Knight is their leading scorer at 16.1 points per game, but as a unit Milwaukee ranks dead last in the NBA in points per game.

    After making the postseason last year, all the Bucks can do now is hope for the top pick in the draft.

29. Orlando Magic

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    Things haven't went well for Orlando this season. The Magic have a 13-36 record.
    Things haven't went well for Orlando this season. The Magic have a 13-36 record.Steve Babineau/Getty Images

    Record: 13-36

    Key Victories: LA Clippers, @Atlanta, @Chicago, Atlanta

    Why I Have Them There: The Magic have a few key victories but an overall horrible record. Playing well in a few games doesn't do the Magic any good in these power rankings.

    Orlando is 10-14 in its own building, but it has only come up with three victories on the road this season.

    The Magic rank in the bottom half of the league in both points per game and points allowed.

28. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Kyrie Irving has been solid for Cleveland, averaging 21.5 points per game, but the Cavaliers are 16-31 this season.
    Kyrie Irving has been solid for Cleveland, averaging 21.5 points per game, but the Cavaliers are 16-31 this season.Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    Record: 16-31

    Key Victories: @Washington, Chicago, LA Clippers

    Why I Have Them There: No matter what some Cavaliers fans might say, LeBron James is truly missed in Cleveland. Kyrie Irving has been productive, averaging 21.5 points per game, but a second scorer has been missing.

    The acquisition of Luol Deng certainly helps Cleveland in that department, but it’s too late now. At 16-31, the Cavs are on the outside looking in.

    Anthony Bennett has been a bust so far, averaging only 2.8 points per game, and the whole Andrew Bynum thing didn’t go as planned either.

27. Boston Celtics

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    Brad Stevens is 16-33 in his first season with the Celtics.
    Brad Stevens is 16-33 in his first season with the Celtics.Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

    Record: 16-33

    Key Victories: @Miami, @Atlanta, @Charlotte, Toronto, @Washington

    Why I Have Them There: Things haven’t gone so well for the Celtics either. Boston fans couldn’t have been expecting a championship this year, though. It was unclear how Brad Stevens would perform making the jump to the NBA.

    The Celtics were in rebuild mode this season because of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry going to the Brooklyn Nets. Rajon Rondo not being able to play due to injury until recently has also hurt Boston.

    They do have a couple of impressive wins, but as a whole it has not been a good season in Boston.

26. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Kobe Bryant has been missed on the court this season, shown by the Lakers' 16-31 record.
    Kobe Bryant has been missed on the court this season, shown by the Lakers' 16-31 record.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Record: 16-31

    Key Victories: LA Clippers, Atlanta, @Houston, Golden State, @Toronto

    Why I Have Them There: It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Lakers just aren’t the same without Kobe Bryant.

    Los Angeles has been horrible defensively, owning the second-worst defense in terms of points allowed per game.

    Pau Gasol is having a solid year, averaging 17.0 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. The Lakers have some quality wins this season, but not having Bryant on the floor is what has ultimately hurt this team. He’s one of the best players in the history of the game, and his leadership on the court goes deeper than stats can prove.

    I have the Lakers higher than the Bucks and Magic simply because of their quality wins.

25. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Even with a 15-33 record, Michael Carter-Williams has provided Philly fans with hope for the future.
    Even with a 15-33 record, Michael Carter-Williams has provided Philly fans with hope for the future.Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Record: 15-33

    Key Victories: Miami, @Washington, Chicago, Houston, @Portland

    Why I Have Them There: Philadelphia and Utah was a tough decision, deciding who got the upper hand here. Ultimately, it’s the Jazz simply because they have the better record.

    The 76ers have been good enough offensively, with Evan Turner leading the way. They rank 14th in the NBA in points per game.

    They have a lot of work to do defensively. Statistically speaking they have the worst defense in the NBA, ranking last in points allowed per game.

     

24. Utah Jazz

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    Utah has struggled this season.
    Utah has struggled this season.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Record: 16-31

    Key Victories: Chicago, @Phoenix, Houston, Oklahoma City, Washington

    Why I Have Them There: Utah gets the nod over the Lakers on this list because of the Oklahoma City win. They also have a better defense, with the Jazz ranked 15th in points allowed per game.

    Scoring has been the issue for the Jazz this season. Gordon Hayward is their leading scorer at 16.9 points per game. As a unit, they rank 26th in points per game.

    The season was over for Utah just as it started; it lost its first eight games to start the year.

23. Sacramento Kings

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    The Kings as of Monday are on a seven-game losing streak.
    The Kings as of Monday are on a seven-game losing streak.Darren Abate/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Record: 15-32

    Key Victories: Phoenix, @Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Miami, @Houston, Portland

    Why I Have Them There: Sacramento has only 15 wins, but it makes this spot because of its key victories. The Kings beat a good Phoenix team twice, won against Portland and beat another top team in Houston.

    That win over the two-time defending champions isn’t bad either.

    The Kings have struggled on defense, ranking 28th in points allowed per game. Despite the unsuccessful season, DeMarcus Cousins has shone glimmers of hope for Sacramento fans. He is averaging 22.6 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, leading his team in both categories. 

22. New Orleans Pelicans

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    Anthony Davis is a master at rejection; he is averaging 3.3 blocks per game this season.
    Anthony Davis is a master at rejection; he is averaging 3.3 blocks per game this season.Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Record: 20-26

    Key Victories: @Memphis, @Chicago, Memphis, Portland, @Memphis, Chicago

    Why I Have Them There: There’s a slight jump from Sacramento’s 15 wins to New Orleans at the next spot with 20 wins.

    Anthony Davis is having an unbelievable year for the Pelicans; he leads the team with 20.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. He also has 3.3 blocks per game.

    New Orleans has a decent record, but it lacks key victories. It beat Portland at home, but the other ones are Memphis and Chicago.

    The Pelicans would need a couple more big wins to get any higher on this list.

21. New York Knicks

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    Carmelo Anthony is having another great season, averaging 27.1 points per game.
    Carmelo Anthony is having another great season, averaging 27.1 points per game.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Record: 19-28

    Key Victories: @Charlotte, @Atlanta, Chicago, Atlanta, @San Antonio, @Dallas, Miami, Phoenix

    Why I Have Them There: The Knicks get the advantage over the Pelicans because of their body of work. Beating Miami and Phoenix at home are good wins, but beating San Antonio and Dallas on the road is even better.

    The Pelicans and Knicks are about the same in terms of offensive statistics, but New York has the edge on defense. The Knicks are 10th in the league in points allowed per game.

    Carmelo Anthony also helps give the Knicks this spot because of what he brings on the offensive side of the ball. He is one of the top scorers in the league, averaging 27.1 points per game this season.

20. Detroit Pistons

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    Brandon Jennings and the Pistons are currently in a battle with the Bobcats for the eighth seed.
    Brandon Jennings and the Pistons are currently in a battle with the Bobcats for the eighth seed.Allen Einstein/Getty Images

    Record: 19-27

    Key Victories: Washington, @Miami, @Chicago, @Indiana, Phoenix, @Washington

    Why I Have Them There: Detroit gets the nod over New Orleans and New York here because of the key victories. Beating Miami and Indiana on the road is a tough task, so the Pistons should be rewarded for those victories.

    They don’t have quite the balance that New Orleans does in terms of home and away records, but the road wins are what finally give the Pistons the edge.

    Brandon Jennings leads the Pistons with 17.0 points per game in his first season with the team. Andre Drummond is third in the NBA in rebounding, hauling in 12.8 rebounds per game.

     

19. Charlotte Bobcats

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    The Bobcats have one of the top defenses in the NBA, in terms of points allowed per game.
    The Bobcats have one of the top defenses in the NBA, in terms of points allowed per game.Barry Gossage/Getty Images

    Record: 21-28

    Key Victories: Toronto, Golden State, @Toronto, LA Clippers

    Why I Have Them There: While the Bobcats may only have a few key victories, their record speaks for itself. At 21-28, they are in control of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

    Charlotte has struggled offensively but has made up for it on defense. Its defense is the sixth-best in the league in points allowed per game.

    Its offense is 28th in points per game, but the defense has carried it so far. The Bobcats will look to hold off teams like Detroit for that final playoff spot, but I give Charlotte the edge right now mainly because of the defense.

18. Denver Nuggets

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    Ty Lawson has been the main distributor for Denver this season, averaging 8.9 assists per game.
    Ty Lawson has been the main distributor for Denver this season, averaging 8.9 assists per game.Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Record: 22-23

    Key Victories: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, @Toronto, @Washington, Oklahoma City, @Golden State, Indiana

    Why I Have Them There: Denver has beaten some good teams this season, both at home and on the road. It ranks ahead of Charlotte because of that.

    The Nuggets are great down low with Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson. Denver ranks fifth in the NBA in rebounds per game.

    Ty Lawson is the main reason why Denver ranks ahead of other teams, though. He has done a great job at point guard this season, leading the team in points and assists per game. His 8.9 assists per game is second in the NBA, behind only Stephen Curry.

17. Brooklyn Nets

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    Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were brought to Brooklyn to win, and right now they are in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.
    Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were brought to Brooklyn to win, and right now they are in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Record: 20-25

    Key Victories: Miami, @Phoenix, @Toronto, @Memphis, LA Clippers, Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Golden State, Miami, @Atlanta

    Why I Have Them There: Brooklyn’s body of work speaks for itself. The Nets have taken down Miami twice and have also beaten Oklahoma City.

    Even at 20-25, the Nets are seventh in the East. They get the advantage over Denver because of their roster. With Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, this team could get hot. Shaun Livingston has also done a good job of filling in for Williams and coming off the bench.

    The Nets have shown what they can accomplish in wins over Miami and Oklahoma City. Based on their potential, they have the edge in this one.

16. Chicago Bulls

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    The Bulls have themselves in the playoff picture again, even with Derrick Rose sidelined for the season.
    The Bulls have themselves in the playoff picture again, even with Derrick Rose sidelined for the season.D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

    Record: 23-23

    Key Victories: Indiana, Miami, @Memphis, Atlanta, Phoenix, @San Antonio

    Why I Have Them There: It’s evident by Chicago being ranked 29th in points per game that it needs Derrick Rose on the court. Losing Rose was a big factor for the Bulls, but somehow they have managed to get into playoff contention again.

    Their defense has made up for the offensive struggles, though, ranking second in the league in points allowed per game.

    Chicago is still a physical team that can beat you on the boards. It is ninth in the league in rebounds per game, led by Joakim Noah's 11.5 per contest.

    Chicago still has a good shot at making a run this season. If the Bulls can keep it up and reach the playoffs, there’s always the chance that Rose makes a return for the postseason.

     

15. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Over the past couple of seasons, Kevin Love has become one of the top players in the NBA.
    Over the past couple of seasons, Kevin Love has become one of the top players in the NBA.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Record: 23-24

    Key Victories: Oklahoma City, Dallas, @Dallas, @Memphis, Portland, Washington, @Golden State, @Chicago

    Why I Have Them There: Minnesota gets the edge over Chicago because of its explosiveness on offense. The Timberwolves are second in the league in points per game and have some good scoring options.

    Kevin Love leads the way, averaging 25.5 points per game, which is fourth in the NBA.

    The T-Wolves have four players averaging over 10 points per game this season. Ricky Rubio is also a great distributor, with 8.2 assists per game.

    If Chicago had Rose, things might be different, but Minnesota should be the higher team because of what Love can bring with his scoring and rebounding.

14. Toronto Raptors

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    DeMar DeRozan leads the Raptors in scoring, with 22 points per game this season.
    DeMar DeRozan leads the Raptors in scoring, with 22 points per game this season.Barry Gossage/Getty Images

    Record: 25-22

    Key Victories: @Dallas, @Oklahoma City, Indiana

    Why I Have Them There: Toronto holds the fourth seed in the East right now with a 25-22 record. The Raptors are fourth in the NBA in points allowed per game.

    Indiana and Oklahoma City are two of the best teams in the league, and Toronto has beaten them both this year.

    Toronto is led by DeMar DeRozan, who is scoring 22.0 points per game this season. The only concern with the Raptors looking toward the playoffs is experience.

13. Atlanta Hawks

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    Al Horford is averaging 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game this season.
    Al Horford is averaging 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game this season.David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Record: 25-21

    Key Victories: LA Clippers, Indiana, Houston, Miami

    Why I Have Them There: The Hawks are a fairly balanced team. The offense and defense are both ranked around the middle of the NBA, so they don’t really rely on one over the other.

    They have a great point guard in Jeff Teague, who is averaging 7.3 assists per game this season. Al Horford is probably their best overall player, averaging 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.

    The Hawks have some big victories, but they have all come at home. Their road play is the reason they are ranked lower than Washington. Atlanta is just 9-14 on the road.

     

     

12. Washington Wizards

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    John Wall has helped Washington fit itself into the playoff picture.
    John Wall has helped Washington fit itself into the playoff picture.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Record: 23-23

    Key Victories: Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, @Phoenix, @Golden State, Oklahoma City

    Why I Have Them There: Washington is another team that is fairly balanced between its offense and defense. The offense is built around point guard John Wall, and he is having a terrific season.

    Washington has some key wins, beating Miami and Oklahoma City. Golden State and Phoenix were big road wins for this team, also.

    The Wizards are ranked higher than Atlanta because of Wall. He is averaging 19.8 points per game this season along with 8.6 assists. Washington gets this spot because of what he brings offensively, and also because of the keys wins versus Miami and Oklahoma City.

11. Dallas Mavericks

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    Dirk Nowitzki is still one of the top scorers in the league, averaging 21.8 points per game this season.
    Dirk Nowitzki is still one of the top scorers in the league, averaging 21.8 points per game this season.Glenn James/Getty Images

    Record: 27-21

    Key Victories: Atlanta, Memphis, @Washington, Houston, Golden State, Charlotte, @Portland, Memphis, @Houston, @Chicago, @Phoenix

    Why I Have Them There: Dallas is a good fit in this spot because of experience. The veteran leadership it has on the roster gives it the edge over teams like Atlanta and Washington.

    Dirk Nowitzki is still one of the top players in the league, averaging 21.8 points per game this season. The Mavericks also have some key role players in Shawn Marion, Monta Ellis and Vince Carter.

    The Mavs are seventh in the NBA in points per game, but 25th in points allowed. They don’t have any problems scoring, but it’s the defense that has them below Phoenix on this list.

10. Phoenix Suns

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    Goran Dragic is the leading scorer for the Suns, averaging 20 points per game.
    Goran Dragic is the leading scorer for the Suns, averaging 20 points per game.Barry Gossage/Getty Images

    Record: 29-18

    Key Victories: Portland, @Houston, Portland, Toronto, Golden State, Dallas, @LA Clippers, Indiana

    Why I Have Them There: Phoenix is probably the most underrated team in the NBA. It can score, play good defense and rebound.

    Offensively, the Suns are sixth in the league in points per game. They are also 16th in points allowed, while ranking 13th in rebounding.

    They aren’t loaded with a bunch of superstars, but they have a well-balanced roster. They have six players that are averaging over 10 points per game this season. That shows how well they distribute the basketball on offense.

     

9. Golden State Warriors

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    Stephen Curry has evolved into one of the top points guards in the league.
    Stephen Curry has evolved into one of the top points guards in the league.Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Record: 29-19

    Key Victories: Oklahoma City, Toronto, @Memphis, Dallas, LA Clippers, Phoenix, @ Miami, @Atlanta, @Washington, Portland

    Why I Have Them There: Golden State is also very balanced in its attack. It can beat you on both sides of the court and dominate the boards.

    The Warriors are second in the NBA in rebounding, 11th in points per game and 12th in points allowed.

    Stephen Curry is now among the best in the league. He averages more assists per game than anybody in and also averages 24.5 points per game.

    In late December, they had a 10-game winning streak that lasted into January.

     

     

8. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Tony Allen is one of the reasons Memphis is successful defensively.
    Tony Allen is one of the reasons Memphis is successful defensively.Bart Young/Getty Images

    Record: 26-20

    Key Victories: Golden State, @LA Clippers, @Golden State, Phoenix, @Phoenix, Atlanta, Oklahoma City, @ Houston, @Portland, Houston

    Why I Have Them There: Memphis is another team that’s built on defense. It is third in the NBA in points allowed per game.

    Memphis is ranked higher than Golden State and Phoenix on this list because of the head-to-head meetings. The Grizzlies are 2-1 versus Golden State and 3-0 against Phoenix.

    One team they haven’t been able to figure out is the San Antonio Spurs. They have lost all three games against the Spurs this season, and that’s why San Antonio gets the nod for the next spot in the rankings.

7. San Antonio Spurs

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    The Spurs, led by Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, are one of the most experienced teams in the NBA.
    The Spurs, led by Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, are one of the most experienced teams in the NBA.Chris Covatta/Getty Images

    Record: 34-13

    Key Victories: LA Clippers, Phoenix, Golden State, Atlanta, @Golden State, @Dallas, @Phoenix

    Why I Have Them There: The Spurs are among the most experienced teams in the NBA, but maybe they are too experienced.

    Of course, they do have some big wins against Phoenix and Golden State, but they have struggled against the top teams in the Western Conference.

    San Antonio is 0-8 in games versus Oklahoma City, Portland and Houston this season. Its defense is fifth in the league in points allowed, but it falls to No. 7 in these rankings because of the inability to beat the top teams.

6. Houston Rockets

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    Dwight Howard has been a big reason for Houston's 32-17 record.
    Dwight Howard has been a big reason for Houston's 32-17 record.Danny Bollinger/Getty Images

    Record: 32-17

    Key Victories: Dallas, @ Portland, Toronto, @Memphis, Atlanta, @San Antonio, @Golden State, San Antonio, Golden State, Portland, @Washington

    Why I Have Them There: The Rockets have beaten the Spurs three times this season, so that’s why they get the edge here.

    Houston is a team that could go deep in the postseason because of its ability to rebound the ball. It ranks seventh in the league in that department, and Dwight Howard’s arrival has helped shape that number. The big man is averaging 12.3 rebounds per game this season.

    James Harden has become one of the dominant scorers in the league, averaging 23.8 points per game.

    The Rockets have a good body of work this season, beating teams like Portland, San Antonio and Golden State twice.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

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    It will be important for the Clippers to get Chris Paul back as soon as possible.
    It will be important for the Clippers to get Chris Paul back as soon as possible.Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Record: 34-16

    Key Victories: Golden State, Houston, @Houston, Oklahoma City, Chicago, @Memphis, @Washington, San Antonio, @Dallas, @Chicago, @Toronto, Dallas

    Why I Have Them There: The Clippers are one of the best teams in the NBA at home, owning a 20-3 record at the Staples Center. They have the third-best offense in terms of points per game, led by Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.

    Griffin is averaging 23.0 points per game this season, and Paul is at 11.2 assists per game.

    Getting Paul back in the next few weeks will be very important for Los Angeles moving forward because everything starts with him on offense. He is arguably the best point guard in the NBA, and the Clippers need him to make a deep playoff run.

    The Clippers are above Houston in the rankings because they beat them twice. L.A. has two of the best big men in the game in Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Griffin is an offensive force and Jordan leads the NBA with 14.0 rebounds per game.

4. Portland Trailblazers

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    LaMarcus Aldridge has helped lead the Trailblazers to a 34-13 record this season.
    LaMarcus Aldridge has helped lead the Trailblazers to a 34-13 record this season.Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Record: 34-13

    Key Victories: San Antonio, Phoenix, @Toronto, Chicago, @Golden State, Indiana, Oklahoma City, Houston, LA Clippers, @Oklahoma City, @San Antonio, Denver, Toronto

    Why I Have Them There: Portland is a team on the rise, led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. It has the best offense in the NBA, ranking first in points per game. Its defense is what keeps it below the top three on this list, though, ranking 27th in points allowed.

    This is an exciting team to watch because of all the scoring. It has beaten both Oklahoma City and San Antonio twice this season.

    The only concern for the Trailblazers in the playoffs is running into the more experienced teams like San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

    The one thing for sure, though, is that Portland deserves to be regarded as one of the top teams in the NBA because of its body of work this season.

3. Miami Heat

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    Getting a healthy Dwyane Wade on the court will be a big factor for Miami moving forward.
    Getting a healthy Dwyane Wade on the court will be a big factor for Miami moving forward.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Record: 33-13

    Key Victories: LA Clippers, Indiana, @Portland, Atlanta, Phoenix, Chicago, Washington, @Toronto, Dallas, @Charlotte, San Antonio

    Why I Have Them There: No matter what struggles Miami has had recently, I still feel comfortable with the notion that it's a top-three team in the league. It could have been higher on the list, but coming off the loss to Oklahoma City at home hurts in that regard.

    Miami is balanced on both sides of the court, ranking eighth in points per game and eighth in points allowed.

    LeBron James leads the team in three different categories: points per game (26.3), rebounds per game (6.8) and assists per game (6.4).

    The Heat have had their struggles on the road, but at home it’s hard to beat them. They are 19-4 at home, compared to 14-9 on the road.

    When playoff time comes, Miami will have as good of a shot as anybody because of its experience. Having a healthy Dwyane Wade will be a priority, and getting production from Greg Oden will be a key factor down the stretch also.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Kevin Durant is the front-runner for the NBA MVP Award right now.
    Kevin Durant is the front-runner for the NBA MVP Award right now.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Record: 38-11

    Key Victories: Phoenix, LA Clippers, San Antonio, Golden State, Indiana, @Atlanta, @San Antonio, Houston, @Houston, Portland, @Miami

    Why I Have Them There: Oklahoma City just had its 10-game winning streak snapped with a loss to the Wizards. It is probably the hottest team in the NBA right now, mainly because of Kevin Durant.

    Durant is having a monster season, averaging 31.1 points per game. Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are also key players for the Thunder.

    Like the Heat, the Thunder are balanced on both ends, ranking fourth in points per game and seventh in points allowed per game.

    They are above the Heat in the rankings because they just beat them, obviously, and because Oklahoma City is a better rebounding team. While the Heat rank last in the NBA in rebounds per game, the Thunder are fourth in that category.

1. Indiana Pacers

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    Paul George has become one of the game's biggest superstars.
    Paul George has become one of the game's biggest superstars.Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

    Record: 36-10

    Key Victories: @LA Clippers, Chicago, Toronto, Memphis, @San Antonio, Miami, Houston, Washington, LA Clippers, @Golden State

    Why I Have Them There: The reason Indiana is the top team in these rankings is because of defense. Defense wins championships and the Pacers have the best in the NBA.

    They rank first in points allowed per game and sixth in rebounds per game.

    Paul George has evolved into one of the game’s top scorers, averaging 22.9 points per game this season. Roy Hibbert, David West and Lance Stephenson are all solid defenders.

    The Pacers are the best team in the NBA and will present a challenge in the playoffs because of their home record and their defense. Indiana is an amazing 22-2 at home this season, so beating it on the road in the playoffs is a must.

    Indiana is ranked higher than Miami because of what it brings down low. The Heat had trouble with West and Hibbert in last year’s playoffs, and that should be the case again, depending on how Greg Oden looks for the rest of the year.

    The Pacers are ranked higher than Oklahoma City because of defense. They could make things very hard on Durant and Westbrook.

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