At about the first quarter mark of this exciting young NBA season, let’s rank the teams from the contenders to the Clippers.
1. Boston Celtics (19-4) - Their defense has somehow gotten better with Shaq. Will they stay healthy enough for another championship run?
2. San Antonio Spurs (20-3) – No longer are they the most boring team in basketball. Their top eight is as good as anyone’s.
3. Dallas Mavericks (19-5) - They are the deepest team in the league hands down. They should consider moving several good players for a star guard (Nash, Anthony) to compliment Dirk and give this squad one more shot at a title. They don’t have the pieces to take out the Lakers in the playoffs.
4. Miami Heat (18-8) - It’s not who they’re beating but how. This team has done a 180 and much of the credit should go to coach Erick Spoelstra.
5. Los Angeles Lakers (17-7) - Without Andrew Bynum this team is beatable, but still a power. For them to repeat they need him healthy.
6. Orlando Magic (16-8) – Will they let Vince’s contract expire or ship him out for a perimeter scorer who can help now?
7. Utah Jazz (18-8) – It seems as if they have been a notch below elite for the last fifteen years.
8. Chicago Bulls (15-8) - Rose is right there with the top point guards. They could use another deep shooter to spread the floor for him and Boozer.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (17-8) - Despite Kevin Durant’s drop in efficiency (43 percent FG, 29 percent 3FG), this team is playing well in large part to Russell Westbrok’s surge (23.6 PTS, 8.8 ASS). It’s no longer a matter of if this team will be the Western Conference’s best one day, it’s a matter of when.
10. New York Knicks (16-9) - The Knicks are much improved but don’t have a chance of escaping the first round, Melo or not.
11. Atlanta Hawks (16-9) - They’re similar to Utah in that they’re maxed out, yet still a very formidable team.
12. Denver Nuggets (14-9) - They better not get stubborn and lose Melo for nothing. Didn’t they learn anything from Cleveland and Toronto?
13. New Orleans Hornets (14-10) - They lack the depth to compete with the Western powers. Chris Paul is again the league’s best point guard.
14. Indiana Pacers (11-12) – Jim O’Brien has to be a coach of the year candidate.
15. Portland Trailblazers (12-13) – This franchise has terrible luck. Both of their cornerstones (Roy and Oden) have major injury issues.
16. Phoenix Suns (11-12) – They’re a borderline playoff team. It’s time to start thinking about moving Steve Nash for some future assets.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (10-13) – They don’t seem to have last year’s chemistry after adding some new parts.
18. Memphis Grizzlies (11-14) - They have a legitimate shot at the eight seed. They have quietly put together a young, talented team.
19. Houston Rockets (9-14) – It’s time to rebuild.
20. Golden State Warriors (8-16) - They can’t defend a fly but at least they’re fun to watch.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves (6-18)- They’re a star guard away from making some serious moves. Kevin Love (20.5 PTS, 15.6 REB, 42.7 percent 3FG) has become one the league’s most versatile threats and Michael Beasley is a scoring machine (21.3 PTS).
22. Toronto Raptors (9-15) – It’s incredible they’re 9-15 at this point. I cannot comprehend how they’re scoring 103 a night.
23. Philadelphia Sixers (8-15) – Doug Collins has this squad right where they were expected to be. They need to attempt to move Andre Iguodala and start developing the young wings.
24. Charlotte Bobcats (8-15) - They’re really bad after Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace. MJ has shown no eye for talent.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-17) – Like Toronto, I’m amazed they’ve won this many. If they don’t land a superstar in the draft they must start over.
26. Washington Wizards (6-16) – Will anyone take Gilbert Arenas?
27. Detroit Pistons (7-18) - They tried to rebuild on the fly and it has failed miserably.
28. New Jersey Nets (6-18) – Best case is Favors becoming a star within a year. Worst case is they stay where they are until the move to Brooklyn. They do have five first rounders in the next two years going for them.
29. Sacramento Kings (5-16) - More like the Queens (Kudos Shaq).
30. Los Angeles Clippers (5-20) – Free Blake Griffin! It’s time this team is contracted.