With teams like the Celtics and Lakers finally showing true signs of life while enduring major injuries, the second half of the season will undoubtedly be a race to the finish. Chris Paul’s injury has Clippers fans concerned, and the recent absence of Blake Griffin has folks murmuring the phrase “Clipper-Curse” yet again. While I think it is a bit early for that type of talk, there is true cause for concern in Lob-City. Tim Duncan has missed five of the past seven games, and will reportedly miss more action in order to permit his knee/ankle to heal. It doesn’t look as though it is impacting the Spurs, as they are the hottest team in the league.
MVP Watch: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Tony Parker, Chris Paul
#1 San Antonio Spurs 38-11 (Last week- 1): It never ceases to amaze me when I hear the phrase “Man, the Spurs are BORRRRING” uttered. If maintaining a level of dominance and success paralleled by few teams in the league, then I’ll take it. Anyhow, off the soapbox, and the Spurs have rattled off 10-consecutive wins. Their annual “Rodeo Trip” kicks off tonight. They’ll be on the road for the next nine games (18 days), and the scary thing is this is the trip where the Spurs normally get things going.
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder 36-12 (2): After starting their most recent stretch off by stringing together 5-straight road victories. They haven’t won back-to-back games since January 18th. No need to panic, as these are the equivalent of the “dog days” of a long 82-game season. Seven of the next 11 opponents are (current) playoff teams.
#3 Miami Heat 31-14 (3): Following an up and down road trip that ended well, the Heat will now spend the next week in the comfy confines of American Airlines Arena. Three Western Conference opponents should pose a challenge, as the hot-shooting Rockets, scrapping Clippers, and suddenly resurgent Lakers roll into town to close out the week.
#4 Denver Nuggets 31-18 (5): Outside of winning their last seven games, the Nuggets have won 13 of 15 since January 4th. Meaning, outside of the Spurs, the Nuggets may be the hottest team in the league. After hosting on Thursday, the Nuggets play six of eight on the East Coast. Danilo Gallinari remains hot, as he is still shooting over 50% (.514) and nearly 44% from behind the arc.
#5 New York Knicks 31-15 (8): The Knicks may not be able to beat the Nets and Bulls, but they haven’t had much trouble with the rest of the league. Now that they’re healthy and we’re in the second half of the season, it is time to watch that race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Much of the attention has (deservedly) been on Carmelo, but Stoudemire’s hot shooting and Chandler’s 3-consecutive 20-rebound games should not go unnoticed.
#6 Golden State Warriors 30-19 (10): Most of us were hesitant to “crown” the Warriors even following their surprisingly fast start. Not only have coach Mark Jackson’s team maintained it, but they are actually 4-1 since the return of C Andrew Bogut. Five of their next seven are against fellow (current) Western Conference playoff foes.
#7 Los Angeles Clippers 34-16 (4): If anyone wants to question my placing Chris Paul at the top of my list of MVP candidates a couple weeks back, please feel free to provide that argument, now. It was universally accepted that the Clippers were the deepest team in the league, or at the very least in the discussion. Paul has missed the past eight games, and the Clippers have lost six of them. Their fast start keeps them in the mix, but they could definitely use a strong finish to their “Grammy Trip.”
#8 Indiana Pacers 30-19 (N/A): The return of a David West we haven’t seen for years and the emergence of Paul George have Pacers fans feeling positively about their chances if they were to get another shot at the Heat in the playoffs. Coach Frank Vogel has a talented bunch of guys that seem to have completely bought in to his tough, defense-oriented philosophy. 15-straight at home is nothing to sneeze at, either.
#9 Chicago Bulls 29-19 (7): The Bulls have been treading water for the past 10 days, as both Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng have been fighting through various injuries. With news of Derrick Rose being (reportedly) just weeks away from returning, that’s all they really need to do. Jimmy Butler may be improving, but conventional wisdom still says they could use another offensive weapon (say, Caron Butler…rumored to be available) to truly contend once the postseason arrives.
#10 Memphis Grizzlies 30-17 (6): While the Rudy Gay trade may have confused me, the Grizzlies are still a very talented team. Jerryd Bayless’ recent hot streak has been a welcomed surprise. Don’t forget about Ed Davis as a part of that deal. For those that didn’t watch many Toronto Raptors games, Davis is a talented grinder, and seemingly could be the perfect fit for Coach Lionel Hollins’ system.