As we approach the mid-season mark, it’s time to get serious about who’s in it to win it…and who’s fakin’ the funk.
Let’s take a look at the 10 top dogs in the Association:
10. Portland Trailblazers- This team has continued to battle in the face of many injuries. Brandon Roy, Travis Outlaw, Greg Oden, Joel Przybilla, Jerryd Bayless – all out of the lineup. But they still find their record at 27-19, which is good for 5th in the West.
9. Memphis Grizzlies- What would this top 10 be without an unexpected team making its presence felt? The talent on the team is beginning to gel – and Memphis is getting consistent contributions from swingmen Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo. But with his remarkable play this season, Zach Randolph has himself on the brink of an appearance in the All-Star Game. Contrary to his early NBA years, Randolph has been a leader for the young Grizzlies – both on and off the court. The next step for Memphis? Achieving more sustained success on the road (their current road record is 7-14).
8. Dallas Mavericks- If you can beat another NBA team by 50 points, then you should at least be one of the top 10 teams in the league, right? In that game, the Mavs proved that they have depth at the point guard spot. Guards J.J. Barea and Rodrigue Beaubois combined for 24 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists. Sounds very much like a young Jason Kidd.
7. Utah Jazz - Power forward Carlos Boozer has stepped up to the tune of 25 points per game in his last 3 games – all wins – for Utah. Unexpected contributions from Andrei Kirilenko and Wesley Matthews have helped the Jazz win 8 of their last 10.
6. Orlando Magic- Orlando has remained in the thick of the East’s top teams all year, but I think they seriously hurt themselves in the offseason. Vince Carter is a great player, but they lost three vital cogs on last year’s Eastern Conference championship team. Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston would probably all rather be in Orlando (as opposed to their current locations) right now. And I really doubt that Stan Van Gundy thinks his team is better than it was a year ago.
5. Boston Celtics- Sure – the C’s have the third best record in the NBA, but they’re not the third-best team…at least not at this point in the season. Boston started out on fire, but are only playing .500 in their last 1o contests. The Celtics are still doing it with defense (only giving up 93.66 points per game, 2nd lowest in the NBA), but they desperately need to get their team healthy soon so that they can gear up for the stretch run. Garnett and Pierce have been hobbled this season, and they need to rekindle their magic from the 2007-2008 campaign to compete with this year’s Cavs and Lakers.
4. Denver Nuggets- Carmelo Anthony has carried this team to the fourth-best record in the NBA. Although the Nuggets have a 7-game winning, only two of those victories came against playoff caliber teams (Orlando, Utah). But we’ll quickly find out about their status, as 9 of their next 10 games come against playoff-bound teams. With the team retuning to full health (including Anthony), this will be a good measuring stick for George Karl’s bunch.
3. Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks barely beat out a host of teams for this #3 position. Atlanta has posted recent wins against Boston (twice), Phoenix and Houston. Those are some big wins. The Hawks have indeed become the epitome of a true team, and they’ve had a revolving door of players making the key play on a nightly basis. One night it’s a Josh Smith block that seals the win. The next night it’s a Joe Johnson drive to the basket. The following night it’s a Jamal Crawford three-pointer at the buzzer. Each player will have to contribute over the next three games for them to be successful. With games at San Antonio, vs. Boston, and at Orlando, it will be an extremely difficult task for the Hawks to maintain this spot.
2. Los Angeles Lakers- Coming into tonight’s game against the Wizards, they’ve been subpar in their last 10 games (6-4). After losing at Cleveland on Thursday, the Lakers need to re-establish themselves against an upper-echelon squad. They’ll get that chance on Sunday when they travel to Boston. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will have to continue to play efficiently – they’ve combined for 33 points, 19 rebounds and are shooting 55% from the field.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers- Sitting at 35-11, it appears that the race is on between the Cavs and the Lakers for home court advantage (should they meet up in the Finals). The Cavs have come through with some tough, close victories – the kind of victories that can build the confidence of King James’ supporting cast. Recent wins against counterparts Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade has LeBron properly wearing the crown amongst the three best players in the league. The Cavs get a break against some lightweight opponents over the remainder of the week (vs. MIN, @ IND, vs. LAC), setting up yet another showdown with the Heat next Thursday.