A new team occupies the top of the rankings this week.
As another blockbuster trade nears, the team that won the last one currently sits atop the league. The Orlando Magic have won nine straight games with Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu in the mix.
The next big deal could land Carmelo Anthony, Richard Hamilton, and Chauncey Billups in New Jersey while displacing 75 percent of the Nets’ current roster. As many as nine New Jersey players could have new addresses as early as today.
While the Nets are struggling mightily, this new core would push them into the playoffs in the East. With 45 games left, the Nets are only five games out of the eighth seed.
No wonder Billy King is pushing for a deal. That and the Nets would only have five available players for Wednesday’s game in Phoenix if the trade is delayed.
From Denver’s point of view, Devin Harris and Derrick Favors will slide into the starting lineup and probably keep Denver in the Western playoffs.
The projected starting lineups of Denver and New Jersey, while omitting Detroit, after a three-team deal”
New Jersey: PG Chauncey Billups, SG Rip Hamilton, SF Carmelo Anthony, PF Kris Humphries, C Brook Lopez
Denver: PG Devin Harris, SG Anthony Morrow, SF Al Harrington, PF Derrick Favors, C Nene
Al Harrington could be included in a revised trade scenario to be sent to the Nets, however. Only time will tell.
On to the rankings:
1. Orlando Magic (25-12) This new collection of Magic players comprises the best team in the NBA. With Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu in the fold, Orlando has won eight straight. Most teams don’t have an answer for Dwight Howard either, especially the white hot Miami Heat.
2. Miami Heat (30-9) With teams below the Heat showing age, Miami has the advantage of a predominantly healthy roster and a young core. While the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, and Dallas Mavericks have several aging stars, Miami’s Big Three are comfortably under 30.
3. San Antonio Spurs (30-6) The Spurs showed some chinks in the armor last week, losing two games and allowing 233 points in the process. Not the signature of a Gregg Popovich team. The Spurs did respond with two wins, however, and boast 30 wins. There’s no way to put a negative spin on 30 wins in early January.
4. Boston Celtics (28-8) The Celtics went 3-1 last week but did not play particularly well. A 90-79 loss to the Chicago Bulls raised some red flags. One being Kevin Garnett’s injury. Two being the fact that the success of this team will rely on older players like Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, and Kendrick Perkins (major knee surgery) staying healthy.
5. Los Angeles Lakers (27-11) Despite all the drama, the Lakers have won four straight games. Regardless of what happens in the regular season, the Lakers will be there when all is said and done.
6. Dallas Mavericks (26-10) Even without Caron Butler the rest of the way, the Mavericks are a top team in the NBA. Shawn Marion will step into the starting lineup and Dirk Nowitzki will eventually heal. He better heal sooner rather than later since the Mavs have dropped five of seven in his absence.
7. Chicago Bulls (24-12) The Bulls have won enough games and beaten enough top teams to be discussed as one of the league’s best. Then they drop games to the New Jersey Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. Joakim Noah or not, a top team can’t lose those games.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (25-13) The Thunder went 2-1 last week with wins over Dallas and the Memphis Grizzlies. The true litmus test for this squad comes Thursday night against Orlando.
9. Atlanta Hawks (25-14) No team with this many wins has gone as far under the radar in recent memory as the 2010-11 Atlanta Hawks. Playing in the same division as Miami and Orlando will do that. The Hawks are riding a four-game winning streak and take on the beaten up Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors next.
10. New York Knicks (21-15) Danilo Gallinari’s absence finally reared its head in a 109-87 loss to the Lakers. Even in a loss where the Knicks shot under 40 percent and Amar’e Stoudemire had the worst game of his season, the Knicks were still within 91-83. They are here to stay.
11. Utah Jazz (24-11) When the Jazz lose, it doesn’t just lose, it goes down in flames. Utah lost 110-87 to Atlanta last Wednesday and followed it up with a 110-99 loss to Memphis. This group better prepare itself for the New York Knicks on Wednesday, because another upset could be brewing.
12. New Orleans Hornets (22-16) The Hornets suffered through a rough week but salvaged it with a win over the flailing Nuggets. There’s nothing particularly impressive about what the Hornets are doing, but they’re still sixth in the West.
13. Denver Nuggets (20-16) It’s hard to say what Denver will look like as soon as Tuesday. That said, even if Anthony and Billups are traded, Devin Harris and Derrick Favors should keep the Nuggets a contender. They’ll take a plunge in the rankings if the trade’s completed, however.
14. Portland Trail Blazers (20-18) Even without Brandon Roy, the Blazers are a playoff team. Wes Matthews is emerging as one of the best young scorers in the league and Nicolas Batum has elevated his play. LaMarcus Aldridge has also distinguished himself as one of the league’s best power forwards. Portland has a lot going for them.
15. Memphis Grizzlies (17-20) Memphis currently sits in the ninth seed in the Western Conference. After winning 3-of-4, the Grizzlies can really get hot with the Charlotte Bobcats and Detroit Pistons upcoming.
16. Milwaukee Bucks (14-21) Statistically, the Bucks have played the toughest schedule this season. Combine the Eastern Conference with the easiest schedule from here on out, Milwaukee could once again make the playoffs.
17. Philadelphia 76ers (15-22) Only in the Eastern Conference can a team beat the Chicago Bulls and then lose to the Detroit Pistons the very next night. Doug Collins narrowly edges Jay Triano for quote of the week: “Sure, it was disappointing. If we had won, we wouldn’t have needed a plane to get home.”
18. Phoenix Suns (15-20) While the Magic got more explosive, the Suns just got old. Mikael Pietrus has not fit in and Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez don’t mesh well together. Steve Nash, Vince Carter, and an injured Grant Hill won’t get this team into the playoffs.
19. Indiana Pacers (14-20) Three straight loss for the once promising Pacers. On the bright side, Tyler Hansbrough notched 23 and 12 in a 90-87 loss to the Spurs. On the dark side, Jim O’Brien has resorted to a tactic all coaches do when their teams are tanking: “The Hawks are a really good basketball team,” O’Brien said after the Pacers’ latest loss.
20. Los Angeles Clippers (12-24) The Knicks announcers were discussing Blake Griffin’s merit in the All-Star game since his team is consistently losing. If Lamar Odom makes the Western All Stars over Blake Griffin, Clippers fans should picket the game (held at Staples Center).
21. Golden State Warriors (15-22) The Clippers thumped the Warriors on Sunday, earning them one lower spot. A 110-103 win over the Hornets highlighted the week.
22. Houston Rockets (16-21) The Rockets have compiled five straight losses and await Boston, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, and Atlanta. Can they make it nine straight?
23. Charlotte Bobcats (13-21) Just to clear up any confusion, Larry Brown was fired and the players are thrilled with the decision. “Obviously, it wasn’t working, so we needed a change,” Stephen Jackson said. “It’s kind of like losing a team. Nobody wanted to play no more.” Professionalism at its finest.
24. Detroit Pistons (12-24) Cheer up Pistons fans, Troy Murphy is on his way!
25. Toronto Raptors (13-24) Jay Triano, the gift that keeps on giving, after his team’s win over the Kings: “You’d hope getting beat by 20 points and getting embarrassed is something you don’t want to have happen again, that you bounce back and respond.” Tell that to the Nets.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (9-29) Although the Wolves went 0-4 last week, they only lost those games by an average of 4.75 points. In that stretch, one thing has become increasingly clear: Jonny Flynn is not in their future plans.
27. Washington Wizards (9-26) The Wizards blew out the Nets, 97-77, and opened the game on a 21-3 run. So they are one spot better than one of many mediocre teams.
28. New Jersey Nets (10-27) This current Nets team is clearly struggling with all the trade rumors swirling about. As many as nine players on the current roster could be traded in a mega deal that will bring Carmelo Anthony, Richard Hamilton, and Chauncey Billups to Newark. Avery Johnson, is that something you might be interested in?
29. Sacramento Kings (8-26) An unexpected 122-102 win over the Nuggets could be the game that pushed Denver management over the edge to make a trade. And people thought the Kings wouldn’t leave their mark on this NBA season…
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-29) Manny Harris scored 27 points in a loss to the struggling Suns. The undrafted free agent marks the only good news in a Hindenburg of a season. The latest: Anderson Varejao out for the year.