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This week’s theme: Separation. Things are really starting to sort themselves out, and the top teams in each conference are playing fantastic basketball right now. Not to mention that after two weeks on top, the Chicago Bulls have been knocked off their #1 spot.
1) Oklahoma City Thunder (16-3) – They are 11-1 in their last 12 games. I love OKC. I love Kendrick Perkins. I love James Harden’s beard. I love that Scott Brooks looks like E from Entourage, and I love the fact that they are so good despite having some sort of weird “Durant vs. Westbrook” beef lurking in the background.
2) Chicago Bulls (17-4) – The Bulls slide down to #2 this week, and it’s not so much their fault as much as it is the Thunder playing near perfect basketball for the past three weeks.
3) Miami Heat (14-5) – The Miami Heat went on a mini-tear while Dwayne Wade was injured, and now that he’s back they’re playing as good as they ever have. The real test will come Sunday afternoon when they play the Bulls at home. That should be good one.
4) Denver Nuggets (14-5) – A part of me doesn’t want to fully believe in this team, but they keep winning. Six games in a row, to be exact. It’s not that I don’t think they’re good – they obviously are – but can they win a title playing like this? I’m still leaning towards no.
5) Philadelphia 76ers (13-6) – I am very hesitant to put the 76ers in the top 5. There are about five other teams coming up that are extremely close in terms of record and talent, but for now Philly gets the spot.
6) Atlanta Hawks (14-6) – Atlanta is still battling, and Kirk Hinrich is finally healthy. And is Marvin Williams seriously shooting .474 from three-point range this season? That doesn’t seem sustainable.
7) Portland Trailblazers (12-8) – I look at Portland, and then I look at some of the other teams competing for the #7 spot, and I just think they are better. If you play Portland at home, you’re going to lose.
8) Indiana Pacers (12-6) – The Pacers had a tough schedule this past week, and they came away with impressive wins over the Lakers and the Bulls. This was a good test for them. It’s also worth mentioning that Roy Hibbert hurt his ankle last night in Boston. It looked worse then it was, but ankle injuries can linger, and he’s a huge part of what they do.
9) Los Angeles Lakers (11-8) – I may have cursed them by putting them at #3 last week. The Lakers lost three straight games after that before finally grinding out a win over the Clippers Wednesday night. Rumor has it that the Lakers are also looking at bringing in Gilbert Arenas, so that should be fun.
10) Los Angeles Clippers (10-6) – They have a huge back-to-back set coming up this week weekend against Denver and Oklahoma City. Check back next week.
11) Boston Celtics (9-9) – I have been begging this team to show me they could still hang with the top teams, and they proved it this week. It started with two of the weirdest games you will ever see against Orlando (a 31-point win followed by a 27 -point comeback), and then another impressive win over Indiana Friday night. I don’t know if I’d say ‘they’re back’, but I do think they are done playing terrible, if that makes sense. Avery Bradley also deserves a special shout-out. He hasn’t been fantastic, but he’s done a really nice job filling in for Rajon Rondo.
12) San Antonio Spurs (12-8) – I think I can finally say they are on the decline. Still good, but I expect them to be hovering slightly above .500 all year.
13) Dallas Mavericks (12-8) – How weird has this Dirk Nowitzki injury been? Early reports were that he was sitting down to work on his conditioning, then something about a knee injury popped up. Either way, they need him.
14) Orlando Magic (12-7) – The Magic got absolutely embarrassed by the Hornets last night to cap off a disappointing week of basketball, but they are still 12-7, and just flat out better then the rest of the teams remaining.
15) Utah Jazz (10-7) – Its pretty incredible that Utah was sitting at #2 in the Western Conference last week and are now #7. The West is good.
16) Houston Rockets (11-8) – The Rockets continue to roll. It’s nice to see Kevin McHale running a team and running it well.
17) Minnesota Timberwolves (9-10) – The Timberwolves were doing everything right until they didn’t give Kevin Love a max contract extension and instead opted for a deal that allows him to leave in three years. To quote Bill Simmons (and “Star Trek 2″): “KAHNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!”
18) Memphis Grizzlies (10-8) – They had been on a seven-game winning streak before they lost two in a row. The battle for the eighth playoff spot in the West is going to be great.
19) New York Knicks (7-12) – Watching a ‘Super Team’ lose game after game is the best. Thank you New York.
20) New Jersey Nets (7-13) – New Jersey! Deron Williams! It’s about time. This week the Nets ride a sweet two-game winning streak right into the top 20. Your trophy is in the mail.
21) Milwaukee Bucks (7-11) – The Bucks are the reason why I dislike conferences. They are fine for scheduling reasons, but if the playoffs started today the Bucks would be in with a 7-11 record. That’s not right.
22) Golden State Warriors (6-12) – Stephen Curry is back, and he looks like Stephen Curry. Good sign for Golden State.
23) Cleveland Cavaliers (7-11) – Kyrie Irving is quietly having a really nice season. Sure, he was the first pick in the draft, but I don’t feel like he’s getting quite enough credit for how he’s playing right now.
24) Phoenix Suns (6-12) – The good teams are really good, and the bad teams are really bad. The Suns are really bad… yet slightly better than the worst. Congratulations!
25) Sacramento Kings (6-13) – How bout this stat from David Locke (Utah Jazz radio voice): “Sacramento has trailed by 15 or more for 232 minutes this year of the 912 minutes played (25.4 percent)”. Ouch.
26) Toronto Raptors (6-14) – I’m genuinely sad to see Andrea Bargnani get injured again. He was having a really nice season.
27) New Orleans Hornets (4-15) – The Hornets somehow defeated the Orlando Magic Friday night. Oh, and they are shutting down Chris Kaman while they try to trade him. He can still help quite a few teams.
28) Washington Wizards (3-16) – The Wizards finally fired head coach Flip Saunders this week, and assistant coach Randy Wittman will take over for the rest of the season. He couldn’t do much worse, right?
29) Detroit Pistons (4-16) – If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.
30) Charlotte Bobcats (3-17) – The Bobcats play the Wizards Saturday night. A rare opportunity for one of these two teams to grab a win. Must see TV.