This jumbled mess of injured/inconsistent clubs is nearly impossible to rate this week. Any of them could come back strong very soon, but until then almost everyone looks beatable. Expect some top-10 shuffling over the next few weeks as players get healthy and teams re-gel.
1. San Antonio Spurs (35-6): Will sleepwalk their way until Feb. 3 meeting with the Lakers.
2. Orlando Magic (26-14): The new crew finally lost since learning to play together back before Christmas. Back-to-back road losses to NO and OKC by a total of 4 points (3 of those were in OT, so really two L’s by 1 point) isn’t that bad. At Boston on Monday should be telling.
3. Boston Celtics (30-9): Still can’t wait to see them at full strength. KG hasn’t played in nearly 3 weeks, so they dropped two recently to Chicago and Houston, but their D is still decent and they did top the Spurs a little bit ago.
4. Chicago Bulls (27-13): Like most of the other top teams, they have injury issues (Noah) but are doing OK (6-3 in January). Wins against Boston and Miami are sorta hollow without having to face Garnett or James, and then there was that stupid L in Charlotte on Wednesday (any questions about Rose’s “improved” defense were answered by D.J. Augustin in that game).
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (27-13): Got it done against Houston and Orlando. Can they keep it rolling against LAL, Denver, and the Knicks this week? Serge Ibaka is probably the most important player nobody talks about.
6. Utah Jazz (27-13): Held New York’s entire starting frontline to 10 rebounds (Amar’e had 3) for a decent win that is sure to be forgotten about quickly as they lose to either Washington, NJ, or Philly this week…orrrrr will they now get their consistency on track with Okur back?
7. Miami Heat (30-12): Anyone want to start rethinking LeBron not being a serious MVP candidate? No James = 0-2 against two injured clubs, including their worst loss of the year. LBJ and Bosh will have plenty of time to heal and come back strong by next Thursday against the Knicks (they only have two games in next 10 days). Should be back near the very top shortly.
8. Los Angeles Lakers (30-12): Their record is a result of a pitifully easy half-season schedule. Have recent losses to the Clippers and Grizzlies, and get their doors blown off anytime they face a contender like the Spurs or Heat. The Lakers’ next four games will help paint a clearer picture of what they’re actually capable of: OKC, Dallas, Denver, Utah.
9. Atlanta Hawks (26-15): Apparently someone just told Joe Johnson that you shouldn’t play like crap for an entire season right after your club gives you $120 million.
10. New Orleans Hornets (25-16): Just took Denver, Orlando, Houston in a row right on the heels of barely falling in LA two Fridays ago. Active, team-oriented defense has held 6 of their last 9 opponents under 90 points.
11. Houston Rockets (18-23): Are half-way through their killer January schedule with their “easy” week coming up (Mil, NY, Mem, Orl): two winning clubs and two others in playoffs contention. Gutted out two difficult wins in Boston and Atlanta this week. Brooks is back (more or less), and for the millionth time I’ll remind everyone that they are better than their record. Could be on their way up soon.
12. Memphis Grizzlies (19-21): Were able to wipe out the Mavs in Nowitzki’s embarrassing return to action. Are just about the very definition of middle of the road; they’re not particularly good or bad at anything (shooting, rebounding, defense, transition, etc.). Still somehow in the playoffs mix.
13. Denver Nuggets (23-17): Were the big beneficiaries of LeBron’s absence, smashing the Heat on Thursday. Are still injured (Andersen, Martin, Lawson occasionally), distracted (Melo trade rumors), and inconsistent (lost to Sacramento by 20, beat Miami by 28 one week later).
14. Dallas Mavericks (26-13): MVP’s add value to their club. With Dirk, 24-5. Without, 2-8 (I’m including that painful-to-watch 15 minutes he "played" against Memphis on Saturday). There you go.
15. Los Angeles Clippers (14-25): Giant Killers. Plus they lost to Golden State. That being said, they have clearly improved this season.
16. Golden State Warriors (16-23): Other than predictably losing to the Lakers, Magic, and Heat, Golden State’s January includes wins over NO and Cleveland and a split with the Clippers. All in all, not terrible for this level of club.
17. Philadelphia 76ers (15-23): Barely beat Milwaukee and Chicago. Barely lost to Detroit and Indiana. This is about what to expect from all these mid-pack teams right now.
18. Milwaukee Bucks (14-23): Still injured. Still not getting embarrassed considering their schedule. Unfortunately, their schedule has been fairly rough so following up close losses to Miami and SanAn with a 1-point loss in Philly doesn’t make things any easier right now.
19. New York Knicks (22-17): After losing to the Lakers and Jazz, they then barely showed up for a beating at the hands of the Kings. In Madison Square Garden. Because of Beno Udrih’s 29 points.
20. Indiana Pacers (16-21): Need to win 2 of their next 3 if they want to move back to being taken seriously (Clips, Warriors, Blazers).
21. Portland Trail Blazers (21-20): Looked good for 45 minutes against Miami last Sunday, but then the rest of that game and the week was more of them trying to figure out what their post-Roy/Oden identity is. Apparently it’s a steady diet of LaMarcus Aldridge – curious to see how that works this season and in the foreseeable future.
22. Charlotte Bobcats (15-23): Currently rank as the best of the really really bad teams.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (10-31): Sure they suck terribly, but Love will likely be their first All-Star since KG left. Beasley is hurt and has scored 20+ only once in the new year.
24. Phoenix Suns (17-21): Only beat Cleveland by 8 and then lost to Denver by 34.
25. Detroit Pistons (14-26): Gotta take what you can get when you’re this bad - scraped by Toronto and Sacramento this week. Greg Monroe is looking decent: 4 double-doubles this month and a ton of steals.
26. Washington Wizards (11-27): Don’t get too excited about their recent wins: beating NJ, Sac-town, and Toronto isn’t exactly worth writing home about.
27. New Jersey Nets (10-30): Should be able to top either Detroit (Jan. 21) or Cleveland (Jan. 24) over the next week to pick up their second January win.
28. Toronto Raptors (13-27): Managed only one win against Sacramento, Detroit, and Washington this past week. Desperately need Reggie Evans back – Sonny Weems’ return wouldn’t hurt either.
29. Sacramento Kings (9-29): Lost to the Raptors, Wizards, and Pistons this week. Ouch.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-32): Probably couldn’t finish in the top-10 in the Big East without Varejao.