Here are the teams that are looking great right now:
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (28-8): Can anyone slow the Thunder down? So far, it seems the answer is no. OKC leads the league in scoring at almost 106 ppg, and rank No. 9 in rebounding and No. 10 in defense.
2. Los Angeles Clippers (28-9): After the Clippers’ franchise-best winning streak, Chris Paul and Co. show no signs of dropping off. Los Angeles sits in the Top 10 in both scoring and scoring defense, a combination that will win a team a lot of games.
3. San Antonio Spurs (28-11): Rounding out the West’s triumvirate of teams at the top of the league, the Spurs have one of the best scoring margins in the league at +7.8 ppg and have won seven of their last 10. San Antonio has been the model offensive team, scoring almost 105 ppg, and ranking first in the league with over 25 apg—contributing heavily to the eight Spurs averaging 7 ppg or more.
4. Miami Heat (24-11): One gets the feeling Miami is coasting through this season, and saving its collective energies for the postseason. So far it’s working, as the Heat have the best record in the East. But of concern would be Miami’s rebounding, which is second-to-last in the league at only 39 rpg as a team.
5. Indiana Pacers (23-14): Indiana has been one of the league’s hottest teams of late, winning eight of the last 10 contests. To boot, no team in the league has been better defensively as head coach Frank Vogel’s squad is allowing only 89 ppg to its opposition.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (24-11): Memphis keeps going strong, but dropped one to Dallas Saturday night that was a bit of a head-scratcher. A huge Western Conference match-up looms Monday, when the Griz will take on the Clippers in the Pyramid.
7. New York Knicks (24-13): The honeymoon seems to be over in New York, with the Knicks losing six of their last 10 games which included a three-game skid against Indiana, Boston, and Chicago. Despite the best efforts of Tyson Chandler, the Knicks are encountering problems in the rebounding and defense departments which could become serious issues if not addressed.
8. Golden State Warriors (23-12): The young Warriors continue to play like a veteran team, sharing the ball, rebounding well, and scoring 101 ppg. In each of those categories, Golden State ranks in the Top 10 among NBA teams which bodes well for continued success.
9. Brooklyn Nets (21-15): Despite the turmoil associated with Brooklyn’s coaching situation, the Nets are still playing well and currently own a five-game winning streak. For a team expected to blow its opposition out of the water with scoring, the Nets are playing great defense, allowing only 94 ppg—the league’s fifth-best total.
10. Denver Nuggets (22-16): Another group of young players, the Nuggets are finding a rhythm here in the middle portion of the season. Ranking first in rebounding, third in assists, and sixth in scoring, Denver seems to get better with each week that passes.
11. Atlanta Hawks (21-15): Atlanta has gone through a little down-spell of late, going 4-6 in its last 10 games. But the Hawks are still playing some solid basketball, defending well with their opponents scoring 96 ppg.
12. Portland Trail Blazers (20-16): In a similar fashion to Denver, Portland is another young team that’s starting to find its way as the season progresses. LaMarcus Aldridge has been one of the league’s best in the frontcourt this season, putting up a double-double nearly every game with averages of 20 ppg and 11 rpg.
13. Chicago Bulls (20-15): Chicago is doing exactly what it needs to until Derrick Rose can return from his knee injury. The Bulls are still defending well and controlling the paint, translating into recent wins over the Heat and Knicks.
14. Houston Rockets (21-17): Yet again, this Rockets team is another young team with offensive talent that is starting to really put everything together, as the Rockets are among the league’s best in scoring, rebounding, and passing. But one area of concern for Houston will be defense, with the Rockets allowing over 103 ppg to its opposition this season.
15. Boston Celtics (19-17): Boston has underachieved thus far, but its veteran core has the team playing some of its best basketball this year. The Celtics knocked off the Knicks lately and held the Rockets’ high-octane offense to only 91 in a victory on Friday.
16. Milwaukee Bucks (19-17): Milwaukee continues to hang around in the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture paced by the play of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, two black holes that are somehow co-existing.
17. Utah Jazz (20-19): Utah will likely end up in a group of three teams competing for the two final Western Conference playoff spots, with the Rockets and Trail Blazers. On the outside looking in for now, Utah will need to string together wins to vault higher in the standings—the Jazz have never been more than two games under .500, but no more than one game over thus far.
18. Toronto Raptors (14-23): Yes, a number of teams have a better record than Toronto, but the Raptors have found a groove of late and won six of their last 10 games. Toronto has shown its potential this season—potential that may not be reached until next season—by beating the Trail Blazers, playing the Thunder pretty closely, and putting together a five-game win streak lately with wins over tough Western Conference competition.
19. Detroit Pistons (14-24): Likewise, the Pistons have been underwhelming this season. But the Pistons have won seven of their past 10 and recently notched impressive wins against the Hawks, Bucks, and a 10-point win over the league’s title-favorite Miami Heat.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-17): Just when everything seemed to be in place for Minnesota to start playing very well, the Wolves got hit with the injury curse again—this time, Kevin Love went down for the second time this season with a hand injury that will require surgery and the league’s best rebounder to miss roughly two months of games.
21. Philadelphia 76ers (16-22): After sitting at 12-12, the Sixers haven’t hit the .500-mark since. Philly has lost seven of its past 10, and the need for Andrew Bynum’s return—if it ever comes—becomes more pressing with each game. This, despite the best efforts of Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner who are both putting up career years with Holiday putting up 19 ppg and 9 apg and Turner at 14 ppg and 7 rpg.
22. Los Angeles Lakers (15-21): It seems rock bottom continues to bottom-out in Hollywood, as things continue to go from bad to worse to beyond for a team expected to contend for the O’Brien Trophy. With Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard hurt, plus sixth man Jordan Hill done for the season, the Lakers have lost six straight and still none can definitively say if the season will turn around.
23. Dallas Mavericks (15-23): Even with the return of Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs are still struggling losing eight of 11 since Nowitzki came back to the lineup. But Dallas looked like its old self Saturday night with a 21-point win over the Memphis Grizzlies, a possible vision of improvement the Mavs may be capable of.
24. New Orleans Hornets (11-26): The return of Eric Gordon to the lineup has the Hornets playing as the team many foresaw prior to the season, with additions of Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, and Austin Rivers. Since Gordon’s return on Dec. 29, New Orleans is 5-3 and strung together a four-game win streak before losing to New York Sunday.
25. Sacramento Kings (13-24): Sacramento has a wealth of scoring talent in DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, and Marcus Thornton. But that is all for naught because the Kings cannot play defense, giving up 103 ppg—the Western Conference’s worst mark.
26. Phoenix Suns (13-26): Phoenix isn’t scoring well, and Phoenix isn’t defending well—a formula that will never lead to success. The Suns did however just pick up a solid win on the road against a very good Chicago Bulls team, which was victory No. 2000 for the franchise.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (9-29): Cleveland will be without center Anderson Varejao—leading the league with 14 rpg—for the foreseeable future, and will leave the team with a huge void in the paint. On the bright side, Kyrie Irving is having a fantastic sophomore campaign, putting up 24 ppg and 6 apg.
28. Charlotte Bobcats (9-27): Not much else is new in Charlotte…the Cats did manage to get rid of that atrocious losing spell they had going earlier this year, but improvement has been marginal if at all. Charlotte has lost eight of its last 10 games, and rank last in the league in scoring defense, allowing nearly 104 ppg.
29. Washington Wizards (6-28): The Wizards aren’t particularly any better, but the return of John Wall should make them better despite the black hole he is on offense. And to be honest, the Wizards get a break from the cellar for a spell just because of how bad the Magic are playing.
30. Orlando Magic (13-23): Although they have won 13 games, the Magic are finally playing to the standard—or lack thereof—I expected to see after the Magic sent one of the league’s best players out of town in exchange for a bunch of average ones. No team has been worse than the Magic of late, who have won just once in their past 10 games.