With lots of teams out of sorts and inconsistent right now, these rankings are tough to complete. Expect a lot of flux in the 5 through 19 spots over the next few weeks as players get healthy and teams hopefully re-gel. Here are last week's rankings.
1. San Antonio Spurs (37-7): Sleepwalking their way along with a very good handle on when to cut their losses (SA’s bench nearly played more minutes than the starters in big loss to Hornets).
2. Orlando Magic (29-15): Lost a tight one to Boston in KG’s return. Arenas has cooled, but Richardson and Hedo keep getting it done.
3. Boston Celtics (33-10): KG is back, but the offense is still a work in progress since his return. That and everyone’s still waiting to see how they play with a meaningful contribution from the most injured group of centers this side of Portland.
4. Chicago Bulls (30-14): Inexplicably split two games this week in which the Bulls scored only 82 points in each (82-83 L to Charlotte, 82-77 W over Dallas). They’ve been doing a lot of winning recently even with Noah out, but keep in mind that their recent victories over Miami, Boston, and Dallas all came at the perfect time when the opponents’ stars were missing and/or hobbled. They host Orlando this Friday in a game that will be very telling for how strong Chicago is while Noah heals.
5. New Orleans Hornets (29-16): Followed up some good wins last week with more this week, including a devastating, 41-point sucker punch to the Hawks and a big win over SA the next night. Their last L was that 4-pointer in LAL over two weeks ago. No way they last this high in the rankings, but they’re hot right now while other teams are up-and-down for a variety of reasons, but they should win 7 or 8 of their next 9 contests.
6. Los Angeles Lakers (30-12): Even with still-hurt Dirk scoring only 14 points while providing no defense, the Mavs topped the Lakers fairly easily; LAL continues to be the lone contender that is winless against the other contenders (the obvious six: LA, Dallas, SA, Miami, Boston, Orlando). Wins over the perpetually inconsistent Thunder and Nuggets were decent. They take on Boston and SA next week – more chances for LA to prove they can hang with the big dogs.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder (28-15): Their 2-2 split over the last 4 games (all close ones) isn’t too bad: win over Orlando, losses in LA and in Denver, and a win over New York.
8. Miami Heat (31-13): LeBron out = look like crap. LeBron back but without Wade and Bosh = huge win (OK, it was Toronto, but look at who James started next to in that blowout). Once they’re all back, they’ll move right back up the charts.
9. Atlanta Hawks (29-16): In case there’s any question how important Al Horford is to this squad (best player on the team, no discussion), his first injury of the year immediately resulted in a 100-59 beatdown to the Hornets.
10. Denver Nuggets (25-18): Denver’s defense has been a mess, Melo is still a huge distraction, and the team is still just waiting for something to happen. Along with OKC and Utah, the Nuggets are one of the three good teams that have shown no consistency whatsoever in 2010-11. A win over or loss to one of this trio means very little for most clubs. Denver should sweep their last 5 in January (Was, Det, Clv, Phil, NJ), which means there’s about a 0% chance of it happening.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (21-23): Losses to Chicago and NO aren’t exactly the worst thing that can happen right now. If you’re curious how down the league is this year, a ho-hum Memphis squad that no one cares about and that isn’t able to get to .500 is in the top-10 hunt most weeks.
12. Los Angeles Clippers (17-26): Went 3-1 against four forgettable teams this week (Indy, Minny, Portland, GSW). Like Davidson in the NCAA tourney a few years ago, the Clips are now everyone’s second-favorite team, and they make most viewings worthwhile. Is Blake a top-10 MVP candidate?
13. Portland Trail Blazers (25-20): Because they occasionally go on meaningless winning streaks (NJ, Min, Sac, LAC, Ind), people are starting to think LaMarcus Aldridge is an All-Star, but he’s still shooting 49% and he’s still posting a 4-rebound night every two weeks.
14. Golden State Warriors (19-24): Rookie coach Keith Smart is going a good job with the Warriors, putting them on a pace to win 10 more games than last year, has fans at least occasionally thinking playoffs, and the team’s attitude is much improved. At least in January, they’ve kept beating the bad teams and have no questionable losses.
15. Utah Jazz (27-17): When I predicted in the last rankings that the Jazz would lose to one of the three bad teams they squared off with this past week (Washington, NJ, Philly), I didn’t expect Utah to drop all three, plus the expected L to Boston. They finish up their 5-game road trip with a visit to the Lakers on Tuesday. And then they get the Spurs the following night. Somehow they’ll win one of those; they’re just too inconsistent not to.
16. Houston Rockets (20-25): Split another week 2-2 in their killer January run. Will finally be on to February after facing the Clippers, Mavs, and Spurs over a 4-day span this week.
17. Philadelphia 76ers (18-25): A team with no identity or direction right now. They have some good streaks and bad streaks, but it’s tough to tell what the front office and coaching staff is trying to accomplish with this club in the short-term or long-term, who they’re building around (Jrue Holiday?), if AI will ever be traded, or what anyone should expect from the Sixers.
18. Dallas Mavericks (28-15): With an out-of-commission/busted Dirk, the Mavs haven’t done squat, but they did just have their biggest win without him healthy: a 9-point win over the Lakers (?). Other than that, their only victory of late was Saturday over the hapless Nets in the game's final seconds.
19. Milwaukee Bucks (16-25): Still injured. Recent L’s to Philly, Houston, and Memphis tell us their place among the middle of the pack squads.
20. New York Knicks (22-21): Well that didn’t take long (remember when they were 21-14?). Can we finally put this Stoudemire-MVP talk to bed?
21. Charlotte Bobcats (17-25): Beat Chicago and Philly while losing to Philly and Atlanta: not a terrible week for a team down here.
22. Indiana Pacers (16-25): Won both ends of a back-to-back a couple weeks ago, and are 0-for the rest of January. Indy’s offense is still an inconsistent mess.
23. Phoenix Suns (20-22): Beat NY, Cleveland, and Washington on the road before succumbing to Detroit 74-75 (!).
24. New Jersey Nets (13-23): Nearly won three in a row, but Dirk hit a bucket right near the end of their game Saturday, followed up by Jordan Farmar not knowing what to do with the ball for the final six seconds right after a timeout. What was he signed for again?
25. Detroit Pistons (14-26): Lost to NJ this week while also earning the W over Dallas. The most excitement around here recently was being named as a possible participant in the Carmelo trade.
26. Washington Wizards (13-29): Beat Boston because John Wall’s three was so far off it hit glass and banked in (just for the record, he admitted this is not what he was trying to do – it really was that bad of a shot). And they got spanked by Milwaukee and Phoenix.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (10-33): Griffin kept Love rebound-free for an entire half, but then Love got his and ended Griffin’s double-double streak. Oh yeah, the T-Wolves are still losing.
28. Toronto Raptors (13-31): I watch them play and look at their box scores, and for some reason "scrambled eggs" come to mind as an analogy for their season and most of their games.
29. Sacramento Kings (9-32): Remember when it seemed like a given that they’d improve upon last year’s 25 wins?
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-35): Like the Spurs at the top, there’s currently so much space between them and the next team, they’re just coasting in this spot for a while even if they win a game or two.