NBA Power Struggle: Who Is the Best Team in the NBA Right Now?
Coming into the 2010-2011 NBA season most fans and experts expected the Lakers, Heat and Celtics to be the best teams in the NBA.
Then, after the first few weeks of play, the Spurs, Mavericks and Bulls quickly asserted themselves as top contenders.
Now, three quarters of the way through the NBA season, a power struggle has occurred between these six teams, all battling for consideration as the top team in the league.
The Bulls close win over the Heat, who have now lost four straight games, and the Lakers crushing victory over the Spurs on the road lead us to one question: Which team can claim bragging rights as the best in the NBA?
Here are my top 10 teams in the NBA right now.
10. New York Knicks
So far, the New York Knicks blockbuster deal to land All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups has not panned out they way they expected.
The Knicks are still, at best, a second-tier team in the Eastern Conference with a record of 33-29.
Yes, they have an impressive win over the Heat, but the Heat haven't been all that competitive against anyone with a winning record, but we'll get to that later.
The fact that the Knicks lost their third straight game to a frankly pathetic Cleveland Cavalier team shows a weakness in the Knicks that may be incurable.
New York has a losing record on the road (14-15) and is 26th in the league in points allowed, giving up over 105 points per game.
There are redemptive qualities in the Knicks, though. They have one of the most explosive offenses in the NBA, scoring over 106 points per game and against the elite teams in the league (Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks, Celtics, Bulls, and Heat) they have a decent record of 5-8. Granted, it's a losing record, but it proves that when the Knicks are at their best, they can compete with almost anyone in the NBA.
The fact is, with a starting lineup that can match up with the NBA's best, the Knicks can beat any team on any given night.
With games against Dallas, Boston twice, Chicago and yes, Cleveland, the Knicks need to finish the season strong if they want to be considered a contender for an NBA championship.
9. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets? Yes, the Nuggets.
Turns out that trading Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups wasn't the downfall of the Nugget franchise after all.
The Nuggets have a solid record of 37-27 which puts them in the fifth spot in the Western Conference playoff picture right now.
The good news: They have the league's highest scoring offense, averaging over 107 points per game, and they have proved they can win without Anthony, with quality wins over Boston, Memphis, Atlanta and a close overtime loss to Portland.
The bad news: The Nuggets have a pathetic 11-20 record on the road. To make matters worse, they have a league-worst 12 losses after leading by 10 or more points in a game.
Championship teams win on the road and play good defense. The Nuggets need to improve their 23rd ranked defense if they hope to make a big run in the playoffs.
Despite these negatives, Denver has beaten the elite teams in the NBA including the Lakers, Mavericks and Celtics, and when playing at home they are as dangerous as anyone.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder seem to be a team that nobody really takes too seriously, but they definitely deserve respect.
Any team with young, emerging superstars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is a team to be reckoned with and with the addition of Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson, the Thunder only got more dangerous.
Oklahoma City plays well on the road sporting an above average record of 17-13. They also rebound well. They are currently sevnth in the League in rebounding with 42.5 a game and all that is without Perkins, who has been out with a knee injury since the trade.
The Thunder tend not to play well against good teams, though. They have a record of 17-16 against teams above .500, and only a 2-10 record against the Lakers, Heat, Celtics, Spurs, and Mavericks.
Oklahoma City has matured though, as they have played well over the last week with a blowout win over a decent Pacer team and a close win over Atlanta. In fact, the Thunder seem to like close games. They have a 9-4 record when the game is decided by three points or less.
With a very cushy schedule remaining for the Thunder, and the return of veteran big man Kendrick Perkins, look for the Thunder to build some serious momentum heading into the playoffs.
7. Orlando Magic
The Magic find themselves just outside the top tier in the NBA with the likes of the Celtics, Lakers, Spurs, Heat, Bulls and Mavericks.
Orlando, though, is great in a couple key areas. They rebound well with over 43 a game, which is sixth in the league, and they play defense, allowing just over 92 points per game.
Not to mention, they have a legitimate MVP candidate and dominating big man in Dwight Howard.
Why aren't the Magic in the conversation for an Eastern Conference Championship then, let alone an NBA Championship?
Well, they have a pedestrian record of 16-13 on the road. Championship teams win on the road, and since the Magic find themselves in the fourth spot in the East right now, chances are they are going to be playing the Boston, Miami or Chicago on the road for a majority of their second round games should they get past the first round.
The Magic are 15-18 against teams above .500. Championship teams play well in big games. Even worse, they are 3-6 against the three teams ahead of them in the east (Celtics, Bulls, and Heat).
Throw in the fact that Dwight Howard leads the league in technical fouls and will face suspension for every technical he receives in the future and you've got some problems.
However, the Magic have a fairly easy schedule remaining and they have been operating with little to no production from Gilbert Arenas. Arenas has only scored 12 points or more in four games with the Magic and in those games the Magic are 4-0.
6. Miami Heat
After Coach Erik Spoelstra's comments about Heat players crying in the locker room, most people are wondering what else can go wrong with Miami.
After giving up another late lead in a close loss to the Bulls, the Heat are becoming one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA.
They are 14-17 against teams over .500 and are an abysmal 1-9 against the top records in the NBA, with their only win coming over the Lakers all the way back in December.
Before the start of the season, the Heat were asked the question, who will have the ball in a last shot scenario? Now the question has shifted to who will make the last shot?
In games when the Heat are tied, or down by 1-3 points they are shooting a terrible 5-26.
Oh, and in the "what have you done for me lately" department, the heat have lost their last four games including a 30-point butt kicking courtesy of the San Antonio Spurs.
Still, with all that has gone wrong with the Heat, they are still third in the East, only 1.5 games back of Chicago for the second seed and four back of the Celtics. They have a great road record at 21-12 and are sixth in the league in points allowed at 94.8 a game.
Miami has two of the best three players in the league in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and as long as they are playing together, the Heat have a chance to win every game.
However, it's clear that they have some kinks to work out and with a tough schedule remaining the Heat need to improve fast if they want to make a run in the playoffs.
5. Dallas Mavericks
I know what you're thinking, "Isn't No. 5 a little low for the NBA's third-best record?"
Maybe it is, but with the Mavs' loss to Memphis over the weekend, Dallas finds themselves only two games ahead of the Lakers in the loss column.
Dallas has done everything they can to assert themselves as one of the top contenders in the NBA. However, the Mavericks have managed to stay below the radar for most of the season and maybe that's the way they want it.
Dirk and company have the best road record in the league at 23-8, are in the top 10 in points allowed, giving up 96 a game, and have a winning record against the leagues best records at 6-4.
So what's wrong with the Mavs?
Well, they are a little inconsistent. Not to say that all teams don't lose to a bad team once in a while, but Dallas has losses to Milwaukee twice, Detroit, Toronto and has lost all three games against division foe Memphis.
They are not a great rebounding team, averaging only 41 boards a game, which is 17th in the league. With the temporary loss of Tyson Chandler to a sprained ankle, look for Dallas to struggle against teams with powerful big men.
The Mavericks have a pretty tough remaining schedule, including two games against the Lakers and another against the Spurs.
Dallas may be the most underrated team on this list, and only time will tell how capable the Mavs are of making a run deep in the playoffs.
4. Boston Celtics
The defending Eastern Conference Champions got a little bit worse in one of the most unexpected trades this season.
After trading away Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson away to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Celtics lost a valuable backup point guard and a crucial big man.
Although the Celtics have managed to maintain a high level of play on the shoulders of Allen, Pierce, Garnett and Rondo, losing Perkins will end up hurting the C's.
Boston is 29th in the league in rebounding with under 39 a game. They'll need Krstic to play above his potential in order to win the rebounding battle game in and game out.
They are also, like the Mavs, a little inconsistent with loses to Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto and Washington.
Despite these weaknesses, the Celtics have one of the best defenses in the league, allowing a league-best 91.6 points per game. They lead the league in assists as a team with 24.2 a game. Boston has a good road record at 19-10 and is 19-9 against teams above .500.
Perhaps the most impressive statistic concerning the Celtics is their 7-3 record against the best records in the league (Lakers, Bulls, Heat, Mavericks and Spurs).
The Celtics only play four more tough games in their remaining schedule, so look for Green and Krstic to gel into Boston's system as they head into the playoffs.
3. San Antonio Spurs
The NBA's best record had a case of identity crisis Sunday.
After crushing the Heat 125-95, San Antonio turned around and lost to the Lakers by 16, 99-83 at home. The Spurs trailed by 32 at one point, and it wasn't until the Lakers began sitting all their starters that San Antonio cut into the lead.
The Spurs are still 2-1 against the defending champs, but a loss like that will do enough to cause a shuffle atop the NBA's rankings.
It wasn't just the fact that the Spurs got blown out by the Lakers at home, it was what the loss reminded us of. San Antonio seems to have two teams. One team beats Miami by 30 and Dallas by 13, and the other loses by 13 points or more to the Lakers, Magic, Knicks, Trail Blazers, Hornets and Grizzles.
It's this inconsistency that prevents the Spurs from being the favorite to win it all.
Let's not blow things out of proportion though, San Antonio still has a lot to brag about. The Spurs are in the top 11 in points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, and points allowed.
They have a scary 29-3 record at home, which included a 22-game win streak until the Lakers ended it on Sunday.
The Spurs essentially lead any category associated with a record.
San Antonio's identity crisis will be put to the test in their remaining schedule which features road games against the Lakers, Heat and Mavericks.
2. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are 6-2 since the all-star break and have impressive wins over Miami and Orlando on the road. This might have been enough to propel them to the No. 1 spot, if not for the Lakers' undefeated record since the break.
Derrick Rose has certainly had a MVP-type season and has established himself as one of the best, if not the best point guard in the league.
With the Bulls win over the Heat on Sunday that drove Miami players to tears, expect the Bulls to make an impressive run the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Two reasons why the Bulls are the best in the East right now: they rebound and defend. Chicago is second in the league in points allowed, giving up 91.8 points a game, and second in rebounds per game with 44.3.
The Bulls have a mediocre road record at best going 17-14, but after a sweep in Florida and a close loss to Atlanta, Chicago has proven that they can in fact win on the road.
Chicago can look forward to an easy remaining regular season schedule, and if things go the Bulls' way, they could end up stealing the top seed in the Eastern Conference from the Boston Celtics.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers put a stamp on a 7-0 post-all-star record with a big win over the San Antonio Spurs.
What was more impressive than the win was the way L.A. won. The Lakers went into San Antonio and ended the Spurs' 22-game winning streak, the game after the Spurs beat the Heat by 30 points. The Lakers never trailed after the first quarter and at one point were leading by 32 points.
Along with the win over the Spurs, the Lakers have had solid wins over Atlanta, Portland and Oklahoma City since the all-star break.
The play of the Laker big men during this streak has been the only thing more impressive than the streak itself.
Gasol, Bynum and Odom have been producing the way they did during their championship runs the last two years. In the month of March these big men have combined for an average of just under 40 points and over 33 rebounds.
The champs are 23-11 against teams over .500 and have sported the exact same record on the road.
The Lakers appear to be in playoff mode and as we've seen in the past they're difficult, if not impossible, to beat when they decide to flip that switch.
The road doesn't get any easier for L.A., though. They have games against Atlanta, Miami and Dallas on the road, and another game against San Antonio in Los Angeles the second to the last game of the season.
If the Lakers can maintain this level of play for the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs, you can expect another championship parade down the streets of Los Angeles this June.