The 2010-11 season has reached its midway point with the San Antonio Spurs boasting a whopping 35-6 record.
As evidence to why they play the games, the New York Knicks delivered the Spurs one of their losses, then suffered defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Sacramento Kings.
While the top 10 teams have created separation from the rest of te league, the New Jersey Nets and Denver Nuggets have stolen the spotlight for the rest of the NBA. The Carmelo Anthony trade continues to dominate headlines as both teams struggle.
The person that needs the trade the most? Rip Hamilton. Hamilton has been benched while trade rumors swirl and now Anthony may refuse to come to the Nets.
There’s always a spot for Hamilton in Denver, I reckon.
On to the rankings:
1. San Antonio Spurs (35-6) The Spurs are on pace to finish 70-12. They won’t get there, but only six losses at the midpoint of the season is a testament to Gregg Popovich’s influence on this team. Coach of the year?
2. Boston Celtics (30-9) The Celtics own the best record in an Eastern Conference with some heavy hitters. Considering all the injuries Boston has endured, credit Doc Rivers and Lawrence Frank for keeping this grizzled team motivated and ready to play. Who saw Luke Harangody and Shaquille O’Neal having the impacts they’ve had this season?
3. Los Angeles Lakers (30-12) By all accounts, the Lakers have struggled this season and yet they have 30 wins and will run away and hide with the Pacific Division. As long as there are no major injuries (knock on wood), the Lakers will be there come June. They always are.
4. Orlando Magic (26-14) The Magic lost two games this week to teams with a combined 52-29 record. Things could be worse. Game of the week: Monday night at Boston.
5. Miami Heat (30-12) The Heat lost to the Magic and has proven that one injury can sink this cruise ship. Without LeBron, Miami is 0-2 and gave up a season-high 130 points to a Denver Nuggets team in disarray. Any doubt this is LeBron’s team?
6. Oklahoma City Thunder (27-13) Consider the first half of 2010-11 a success for Scott Brooks’ team. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have carried an offensive juggernaut in one of the league’s toughest divisions. Oh, and they’re the youngest team in basketball.
7. Chicago Bulls (27-13) A good first half for Tom Thibodeau, considering his team lost Joakim Noah to thumb surgery and three games to the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets. When Noah returns, the Bulls could emerge as the second best in the East.
8. New Orleans Hornets (25-16) Four wins in a row for a Hornets team that looked to be fading. The Hornets are a solid albeit not spectacular playoff team in the West.
9. Utah Jazz (27-13) An East coast trip awaits the Jazz. The real test comes against the Spurs and Lakers next week.
10. Atlanta Hawks (24-16) If only Joe Johnson could play every game in January. The Hawks star is averaging 27.7 ppg in 2011 and Atlanta is 5-1 in that stretch.
11. Dallas Mavericks (26-13) The Mavs have 26 wins but the wheels are starting to come off since losing Caron Butler for the season. Dirk Nowitzki returned from injury only to meet an ejection in an 89-70 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. That marks five straight losses.
12. New York Knicks (22-17) The Knicks met the West with mixed results. Double-digit wins over the Portland Trail Blazers and the Phoenix Suns were offset by 131 points allowed to Utah and a loss to Sacramento (at home no less).
13. Denver Nuggets (23-17) Credit to George Karl for getting this team to compete despite four months of Carmelo Anthony trade talk.
14. Memphis Grizzlies (19-21) This train is starting to pick up speed. “It’s coming together. You can feel it, by the way we’re talking with other, the way we’re playing with each other, the way we’re helping each other on the defensive end,” Zach Randolph said. Contenders or pretenders? Upcoming games against the Bulls and Hornets will provide an answer.
15. Portland Trail Blazers (21-20) The Blazers are clinging to that eighth playoff seed like grim death. The news around Portland revolves around Brandon Roy’s knees, which will both be cleaned out in a double-surgery with no timetable.
16. Indiana Pacers (16-21) Tyler Hansbrough in five straight starts: 12.6 ppg and 6.4 rpg. What took so long?
17. Philadelphia 76ers (16-23) If the playoffs started today, the Sixers would be in them. Believe it.
18. Phoenix Suns (17-21) The Suns’ leading scorer? Jason Richardson at 19.3 ppg. The problem…he now plays for the Magic.
19. Los Angeles Clippers (14-25) The best power forward in basketball plays for the Clippers. Why not go to the best power forward in basketball for his thoughts on the clippers’ 99-92 win over the Lakers Sunday: “We’re not automatic wins for teams. We’re not going to give up. We don’t care how much hype they have.” That’s wins over the Heat and Lakers last week for those keeping track.
20. Milwaukee Bucks (14-23) The Bucks are about to get hot. Whether that run will be enough to get them into the playoffs remains to be seen.
21. Houston Rockets (18-23) The Rockets easily would have signed up for a 2-2 week before the week started. Wins over Boston and Atlanta, on the road no less, are eye-openers for the last-place Rockets. A good week for a schedule against teams winning 67 percent of their games.
22. Golden State Warriors (16-23) The Warriors have the talent to finish second in the Pacific this season. Anything less would be a disappointment for this group. They’re only 1.5 games behind the sputtering Suns.
23. Charlotte Bobcats (15-23) The honeymoon period with new head coach Paul Silas ended. The Bobcats closed the week with two losses and a Tyrus Thomas ejection highlighted the 88-81 loss to the Hornets. Stephen Jackson responding to Thomas’ blatant elbow following a rebound: “He just got tired of being elbowed and pushed around.” Sounds like a plausible excuse… The video can be seen here.
24. Detroit Pistons (14-26) The Pistons closed the week with two wins and now face a winnable game against the spiraling Mavericks. John Kuester probably never expected to hear that.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (10-31) A win over the Wizards elevates the T’Wolves over Washington. Even though Minnesota loses 75 percent of its games, Kevin Love and Michael Beasley make them a dangerous opponent every night.
26. Toronto Raptors (13-27) Jay Triano’s team is losers of three straight and he’s going into New Jersey Nets’ mode: “I’m proud of the way our guys fought in this game for being on a back-to-back and what we’ve gone through.” New Jersey fans can relate to the moral victory speech.
27. Sacramento Kings (9-29) A shocking road win against the Knicks highlighted last week and possibly the season for Paul Westphal’s Kings. A marquee win for one of the league’s bottom-feeders.
28. Washington Wizards (11-27) How bad is the bottom of the Eastern Conference? Kirk Hinrich is talking about…playoffs? “A lot of it is feeling comfortable and getting energy from our crowd. But you can’t use that as an excuse. We aren’t out of the playoff hunt, but we will be soon if we don’t start winning some road games.”
29. New Jersey Nets (10-30) The Nets are 22-100 since the beginning of the 2009 season. There’s no way to sugarcoat that.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-32) The Cavs are 1-23 in their last 24 and that win came against the Knicks. In other news, the Tulsa 66ers want to petition Cleveland for a game… Larry Owens has to return to Tulsa for that game, however.