Rajon Rondo’s (reported) season-ending ACL injury is terrible news for fans of the Boston Celtics, but could prove to be very beneficial for a team like the Philadelphia 76ers. Boston, already struggling, is now only three games ahead of the Sixers for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With hopes of the return of a healthy Andrew Bynum around the All Star break (Feb. 15-17) on the horizon, Sixers fans are hoping that would be enough to propel them into the playoff discussion. If I’m a Celtics fan, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t prefer to fall into the NBA Draft Lottery in order to help the franchise moving forward.
Kobe Bryant continues to baffle and defy his critics, and even a bit of his own “Mamba-logic” with his most recent exploits. He claims to be “happy as hell” in his new-found playmaking role. Bryant has 28 assists over his last two games, and the basketball-loving world is intrigued to see if this “share-the-wealth” attitude is here to stay…well, at least, I am. No, the Los Angeles Lakers are nowhere near sniffing these rankings, but I will go as far as saying I wouldn’t be surprised if they are actually (finally) on the road to becoming, at least, a team worth discussing without a chuckle or smirk.
Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Tony Parker, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul
#1 San Antonio Spurs 36-11 (Last week- 2): Even with Tim Duncan sitting out four of the past five game (knee soreness), the Spurs have still managed to keep pace and rattle off their eighth consecutive victory on Saturday night vs. Phoenix. Tony Parker, once again, is garnering MVP love, and he deserves it. Averaging 24 points, 10 assists over his previous five games, the Spurs need Parker to continue this hot streak as they get prepared to embark on their annual “Rodeo Trip” (9 road games in 21 days).
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder 34-11 (1): Having won 8/10 prior to running into an inspired Lakers squad on Sunday, the Thunder are far from a team that needs to panic. Kevin Durant keeps putting up astronomical numbers (32.2/6.6/6.4 over his last five), while Russell Westbrook continues to impress as a playmaker. Westbrook, averaging a career high 8.4 assists per game, has also been on a playmaking binge with 27 assists over his past two outings.
#3 Miami Heat 28-13 (4): Even though they haven’t run away with it, the Heat remain the class of the Eastern Conference. They still struggle to rebound and defend the rim, but outside of a potential first round match-up with the Sixers (IF Bynum returns), the Eastern Conference has little dominant post play to truly threaten Miami. The Heat must find a way to complete this current road trip on a positive note, as they return to Miami for a crucial 4-game homestand vs. several playoff teams and contenders.
#4 Los Angeles Clippers 33-13 (3): Chris Paul’s injured kneecap should be further proof of just how important the 8th-year point guard is, in case for some reason you needed further evidence of his total team impact. The Clippers got off to a very impressive 10-3 start on the road, but have lost their past three away from Staples Center. As they head out on they annual “Grammy Trip”, the next eight games in 13 days could pose to be the most pivotal stretch of the season.
#5 Denver Nuggets 28-18 (6): The Nuggets rebounded from a dumbfounding home loss at the hands of the Wizards (10 days ago) by stringing together four impressive wins. Danilo Gallinari found his shooting touch over that stretch, as the 5th year SF has knocked down 50 percent of his 3pt attempts over his past five games. Ty Lawson has been even more impressive over that stretch with 21 points, 7 assists, and 2.8 steals on 54 percent from the field, with 61 percent from behind the arc.
#6 Memphis Grizzlies 29-15 (5): Marc Gasol may not have been selected to the All Star team, but his last three games are an example of precisely why the Grizzlies will remain in the discussion out West. Gasol, one of the more well-rounded big men in the game, is the anchor in the middle of (IMO) the best front court (Gay/Gasol/Randolph) in basketball. Big test (for both teams) as they head into Oklahoma City for a showdown on Thursday.
#7 Chicago Bulls 27-17 (7): The Bulls are 11-4 since the start of the year, and are expecting a healthy Derrick Rose to return sometime after the All Star break. Carlos Boozer ‘s productivity may have tapered off, but Joakim Noah continues to impress. While Noah is only putting up 10.4 ppg over his last five, he’s also grabbing 16.4 rebounds and dishing out 5.2 assists while blocking 3.4 shots per game over that same stretch. They’ll need it, as the Bulls hit the road for the next 8/10. Rose, barring a setback, should be returning just afterwards.
#8 New York Knicks 27-15 (9): At just two games back, the Knicks have done an excellent job at staying within striking distance of the Heat. They’ve gone 1-1 since Raymond Felton returned, but are now poised to make a run for the top spot out East. Carmelo Anthony will remain in the MVP discussion as long as his Knicks remain toward the top, but don’t sleep on Amar’e Stoudemire returning to form and putting up excellent numbers while embracing the role of the 6th man.
#9 Golden State Warriors 27-17 (10): Most of the NBA-viewing public has been impressed by the Warriors’ early season success, but a majority of us wondered how Andrew Bogut’s return would impact the team. If Monday’s road victory over the Raptors is any indication, the Warriors should be sitting pretty. In 24 minutes of action, Bogut went 6-8 from the field for 12 poitns, 8 boards, and 4 blocks. Even more significant, Bogut’s interior presence should make the game even easier for All Star forward David Lee.
#10 Brooklyn Nets 27-18 (8): After a blazing start to the post-Avery era of Nets basketball, they hit a bump toward the end of their Western Conference (sans NY) road trip. After responding with a 20-point blowout of the Magic, the Nets are now set to host a huge 3-game homestand, with the Heat, Bulls, and Lakers are visiting Barclays Center over the next seven days.