With another exciting and defenseless All-Star weekend in the books, the 30 squads of the NBA are ready to start its final stretch towards the playoffs. The Eastern teams can jog it out and maybe hit a sprint at the end, but the Western teams are going to need to start flying to make separation. It seems that the top six spots in the East, which ends with Milwaukee, may have made enough space already as the Bucks are eight games ahead of both the seven and eight seeds. Miami and Charlotte are in current control of those seeds, but they are both still up for grabs with other lagging East teams waiting for scraps. The West, as of now, is more of an interior battle with a lot of spot switching to come in the near future. Just to give you an idea of how close they are, San Antonio whom sits at seventh, is just two games back of being in third place. It’s anyone’s game up there and for the rest of the West, they can battle for the 8th seed. Phoenix, OKC, and New Orleans will see who has the endurance to blow by the other two like Mo’ne Davis on Kevin Hart.
1) Golden State Warriors (42-9, +2)
Best record and best point differential in the league. Best three point shooters as well, as made evident by the contest this weekend and the in-game performances by the Splash Brothers this year. This team started to shake a bit last month but this break is just what they needed. It will be nearly impossible but this is the only team that still can pass the ‘95-‘96 Bulls’ season record.
2) Memphis Grizzlies (39-14, 0)
This team is going to have a tough schedule ahead of them and that isn’t limited to just their opponents. They have the least home games left and the most back-to-back games, so unlike the sprint that other teams are in, this team is in a marathon. On the bright side, if they go 18-11 in their remaining games they will set the franchise’s best record. The have showed the most consistency of any team so far and we know defense wins championships.
3) Atlanta Hawks (43-11, -2)
February is the month of love for most Americans, but the Hawks must have missed the memo. A 3-3 start in the short couple of weeks that they have experienced so far just will not cut it for the team that posted the longest win streak this year and held the top record for some time. Don’t forget they still have a chokehold on the Eastern conference and are trying to add Ray Allen to the squad. A second coming of Jesus Shuttlesworth just might make this team the older brother of the league.
4) Houston Rockets (36-17, +2)
Led by top MVP candidate James Harden, an injury ridden Rockets team will be relying on The Beard to push them to wins. Dwight is necessary to make a title run, but the success from Montiejunas has been enough in recent action. The league should be able to figure out Harden soon so they better find another option for scoring. Goran Dragic maybe?
5) Cleveland Cavaliers (33-22, +2)
I’ve said this multiple times in recent weeks and I will say it again: this team has woken up. Who would have thought that Mozgov and J.R. Smith, who averages more tats than points per day now, would be the missing pieces to James’ kingdom. Kevin Love has finally started to figure out his role on this team and this is ultimately driving them to a great seeding in the East. Not many teams can beat them in seven games.
6) Los Angeles Clippers (35-19, -2)
Sorry Spencer Hawes but you are no Blake Griffin. With Blake out, this team is going to need a lot of help from Spence and “Big Baby” Davis but neither can fully fill the gap that the former Oklahoma Sooner leaves behind. This team has all the tools when they have all of their tools.
7) San Antonio Spurs (34-19, -2)
25-10 with Kawhi Leonard and 9-9 without him. Let’s just start calling Tim Duncan David Robinson instead and we’ll call Kawhi the new Timmy D. With their finals MVP on the floor, this team works, but Popp hasn’t had as many of those days as he would like to. As long as he is on the floor, Popp can get his guys to beat any team.
8) Toronto Raptors (36-17, 0)
Just before the break, this team mopped away the Clippers, Spurs, and Wizards. This may just be the best Toronto team that we have seen in this league (sorry dread-head Chris Bosh era), but they need to find consistency. Their lack of defense begs them to make some move before the trade deadline.
9) Dallas Mavericks (36-19, +3)
The addition of A’mare Stoudemire was necessary but hard to judge. With a tough schedule and a much-needed presence down low with Tyson in and out, Stoudemire will definitely help this team. He isn’t much of a starting center, but he’s a hell of a backup! This is crunch time for the Mavs now to go out and get a home court seeding.
10) Chicago Bulls (34-20, +3)
Another team of vast inconsistencies, especially in the category of defense, where they used to hold the crown of the league. Tony Snell and Pau Gasol have provided the needed X-factor to fuel the team’s runs and D-Rose is starting to help out looking like his old 2011 self. In the six games before the break, the ex-MVP has averaged 21.5 points. To make a title run, this team will have to reincorporate their once top five defense.
11) Portland Trail Blazers (36-17, 0)
Another team that I’m keeping my eye on to make some moves before the trade deadline. Batum has not been the all-around forward that this team needs and Portland has to fill this void. LA hasn’t depreciated with the injury like we all thought he would, but it hasn’t been long enough to tell either. This break was much needed for this respected West team, but they need to find a way to win more games.
12) Washington Wizards (33-21, -2)
They play well against West teams and the bad ones in the East but they have not beaten Toronto or Atlanta this year and they won’t get another chance. Those are likely the teams they could see in the second or third round. Depth is an obvious issue with this squad but a late pickup could throw off chemistry. Thank goodness none of us are the GM, we would need a decades worth of anti-perspirant deodorant.
13) Phoenix Suns (29-25, -4)
The only thing I wish more from this team than making playoffs is that the the big twins made a 90’s style, brother detective show called “Morris to Morris”. This team currently holds the eighth spot but right now they need to worry about ditching a guard, mainly Dragic, before he burns them in the offseason free agency.
14) Oklahoma City Thunder (28-25, +1)
I can’t speak on behalf of what has happened to last year’s MVP, but the All-Star MVP is asserting himself as one of the best in the league. James Harden may end up taking the MVP this season and then we can all reminisce on what this team used to be and could’ve been. They still are in a race for playoffs but they have to get everyone on the floor together. By the way, what happened to that Waiters guy?
15) Milwaukee Bucks (30-23, +1)
An unlikely team with an unlikely coach that is separating themselves from the bottom half of the East. Still a lot of work to do but their success is extremely impressive with players like Jabari Parker and Larry Sanders out. Props to the bigs, the Kidd, and Mr. Alphabet Soup (Giannis Antetokounmpo). I wish he had done more at the dunk contest though.
16) New Orleans Pelicans (27-26, -2)
If Anthony Davis is out then this team is in trouble. Luckily it looks like he will only miss a game or two thanks to the week off that the NBA has had and the fact that they do not play till Friday. They are battling for that last seed but going up against Phoenix and OKC is no small task.
17) Charlotte Hornets (22-30, 0)
Bravo on picking up Mo Williams to fill the void of Kemba Walker. Henderson has done an excellent job offensively as well in Walker’s absence and the two of them together could be deadly. Don’t forget about Big Al either.
18) Detroit Pistons (21-33, +2)
The next few weeks are crucial to this team’s playoff possibilities, as they will play plus .500 teams at home before embarking on endless road games. I thought surely by now they would’ve replaced Jennings but that is not case. Another team to look for at the trade deadline with Monroe as possible bait.
19) Boston Celtics (20-31, +4)
After it seemed that they were going to tank without a doubt this year, the historic franchise has decided not to copy the Lakers and actually try to preserve their respect as a great NBA ball club. They have a lot on their plate to make playoffs but they have a relatively easy schedule for the back nine of the season.
20) Indiana Pacers (21-33, +4)
Paul George has rumors buzzing around his name giving different timetables for his return. As of now it looks like mid-March or later and dare I say that LeBron himself couldn’t even save this team. End Statement. They rose four spots purely because of the other teams, not them.
21) Brooklyn Nets (21-32, 0)
Many teams are calling to try and make a deal for Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. Some Plumlee lovers as well. This team has to be careful with these trades as they are still in playoff contention, but know they cant win a title and are scared to forfeit this year’s draft pick to Atlanta by getting too close to winning one.
22) Utah Jazz (19-34, +3)
Enes Kanter is pleading for a way out of this place and that is never good for team chemistry or the stress that the coaches and front office face. We’ll see how they respond to his childish complaints. What they get out of his possible trade could set a tone.
23) Miami Heat (22-30, -5)
If this team could get both Deng and Wade healthy, keep Whiteside putting up Hall of Fame numbers and maybe get a real point guard from a trade, they would be a tough team to beat. Fortunately, for the rest of the league that is tired of this team, it probably can’t happen. Playoffs are in their future as ridiculous as that sounds.
24) Sacramento Kings (18-34, +1)
Picked up an incredible coach but will this be enough? We won’t really be able to tell till next year when Karl has a fresh start with his full squad. The game plans have changed three times now in just one season; this team just needs to take it from the top. They have plenty of weapons.
25) Minnesota Timberwolves (11-42, +5)
We found out one thing this weekend from this team, that most people already knew. Zach Levine can fly! Its unfortunate that every NBA dunk is worth just two points or else they could be winning some games. This second half of the season is all about shaping these younglings.
26) Denver Nuggets (20-33, -4)
Look for them to make the most of the trade deadline coming and finding some more rebuilding tools like they did with Mozgov. This team has enough tools to not have to start from scratch, but doing so could be a better option.
27) Philadelphia 76ers (12-41, +1)
No longer the laughing stock of the league as this team is showing progress. Surely, they will be a model for all teams like the Magic and Knicks that are attempting a rebuild. Some young guns, like Nerlens Noel, are starting to show why they went high in the draft.
28) Orlando Magic (17-39, -1)
In need of a coach more than anything, but that will have to wait till the summer to do that. Maybe they can get a good pick and draft one? Why isn’t that a thing yet? These next few weeks are all about developing their players in game situations.
29) New York Knicks (10-43, -3)
Stoudemire is gone and it looks like Melo could be shut down for the remainder of the season leaving this team in the hands of Tim Hardaway Jr. and his band of D-League teammates. Fortunately, they have played their best in recent times and almost doubled their win total in just a few weeks of games. If Billy Beane was on this team he would describe the East like this: “There’s good teams and then there’s bad teams. Then there’s 50 feet of crap, and then there’s us.”
30) Los Angeles Lakers (13-40, -1)
The Lackers, sorry I mean Lakers, are still paying Nash who hasn’t been to practice or even a game this whole year. No luck heading into the trade deadline despite rumors, but the odds are in their favor to keep their first round pick and pick up a stud like Duke’s Okafor.
Daniel is a beat writer for the UCSB men’s tennis team. Follow him on Twitter @TheRealMoebus