Not only are the league’s best teams distinguishing themselves, but the best players are as well.
While the top four teams enjoy balanced attacks, the NBA’s other contenders boast players that are displaying superhero efforts.
Take Exhibit A: Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge. No player has battled through adversity like Aldridge has. Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, and Marcus Camby all suffered major injuries and the Trail Blazers are still in the playoff hunt. Aldridge is pouring in 29.6 ppg in February.
The NBA’s other MVP favorites: Chicago’s Derrick Rose, Orlando’s Dwight Howard, and Phoenix’s Steve Nash. Throw LeBron James in there as well, although he has plenty of help.
On to the rankings:
1. San Antonio Spurs (45-9) The Spurs have won of 5-of-6, so a 77-71 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers won’t hurt them. San Antonio has a 5.5 game lead over the league’s second-best record.
2. Boston Celtics (39-14) An 85-82 win over the Miami Heat salvaged what could have been a disastrous week for the Celtics. The sign of a great team is when it can endure its star player having an off night and still win. Paul Pierce scored just one point on 0-of-10 shooting against the Heat, but the rest of the team stepped up in his absence.
3. Miami Heat (39-15) The Heat entered Sunday’s tilt against the Celtics with the second-best record in the league. LeBron James and company just need to figure out a way a way to beat Boston.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (38-17) While the 89-75 loss to the Orlando Magic was undoubtedly an ugly one, the Lakers had won four straight prior to the loss. The Lakers need more out of the point guard and small forward position going forward.
5. Dallas Mavericks (38-16) Imagine if Peja Stojakovic can continue to score at a 22-point clip. Coula Peja provide the elixir for Caron Butler’s season-ending injury? Not likely, but Mavs’ fans can dream.
6. Chicago Bulls (36-16) Derrick Rose may be the league MVP, and it’s hard to argue with all the games Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah missed due to injury (46). Oh, and he’s playing with two stomach ulcers. When healthy, this group is probably the favorite to challenge Boston for the Eastern title.
7. Orlando Magic (35-21) Stan Van Gundy, truer words have never been spoken: “We needed to get Dwight the ball. And that was my fault. Our perimeter play is mind boggling right now.” Avery Johnson could have used that advice, roughly 9 p.m. Saturday night in a loss to the Knicks. The Magic rebounded with a monumental win over the Lakers Sunday, though. Orlando’s hanging around.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (34-19) The last statement win the Thunder had came against the Orlando Magic on Dec. 13. OKC will need to do better than that if it wants to be taken seriously in the Western Conference playoffs.
9. New Orleans Hornets (33-23) The Hornets have lost 5-of-6, including games to the Nets and Timberwolves. That 10-game winning streak that ended Jan. 28 feels like an eternity ago.
10. Atlanta Hawks (33-20) The Hawks lost two straight this week, but they’re still a top 10 team. Before Sunday, they had a better record than the Magic.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (29-26) The Grizzlies went 3-1 last week with wins over the Thunder and Nuggets (combined record 65-41). If the Grizzlies finish 8th in the West, the Spurs won’t be looking forward to that first-round matchup. Don’t rule out an upset.
12. Denver Nuggets (31-23) If I’m Masai Ujiri I keep Carmelo Anthony and make one more run at the title, all the while trying to convince him to stay. Are Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer enough to relinquish arguably the NBA’s best scorer?
13. Portland Trail Blazers (30-24) LaMarcus Aldridge should be an MVP candidate, if he isn’t already.
14. Phoenix Suns (26-25) Steve Nash should garner MVP consideration for taking a team without mch talent or its current leading scorer (potentially) to the playoffs. Sadly for Nash, eight seeds don’t win MVP awards. He and Aldridge have my vote, though.
15. Utah Jazz (31-24) There’s a festering mess brewing in Utah. Last week I said the wheels were coming off Jerry Sloan’s Jazz. This week I’ll say the wheels have come off Tyrone Corbin’s Jazz. It’s bad when a HOF coach hangs it up midseason. It’s worse when the franchise’s best player (Karl Malone) continues to bash the organization. Malone for the quote of the week: “What I’m hearing, you can have Dr. Naismith and Coach Wooden and it wouldn’t matter.”
16. Indiana Pacers (24-28) The Pacers are 6-1 in February. Make that 7-1 under Frank Vogel. The Pacers are two games clear of No. 8 seeded Charlotte and could go as high as 6.
17. Philadelphia 76ers (26-28) The Sixers won a statement game against the Spurs, separating themselves from the rest of the Eastern dregs. The reason: Defense is doing it for us. We’ve been locking down the last few games and want to keep it going,” Thaddeus Young said. Never before has defense been the key component to success in the NBA…
18. New York Knicks (27-26) A loss to the Clippers was a warning sign for the Knicks and their fans. Get Carmelo Anthony before it’s too late… Danilo Gallinari shouldn’t stand in the way of a deal.
19. Golden State Warriors (24-29) In their last seven games, the Warriors have beaten Utah, Chicago, Denver, and OKC. Hard to believe they only have 24 wins. For those East coast fans wondering how David Lee’s doing, he registered 23 points and 19 rebounds in a 100-94 win over the Thunder.
20. Charlotte Bobcats (23-31) The Bobcats won a thriller in Atlanta on Stephen Jackson’s game-winning shot. He let the crowd know what he does… “This is what I do,” Jackson exclaimed before being mobbed by teammates. Has that statement ever been uttered by a player on a team eight games below .500?
21. Houston Rockets (25-30) Houston lost back-to-back games to Minnesota and Dallas to close last week. In the Eastern Conference, the Rockets would not have lost to the T’Wolves. That’s the product of 25 wins being good for last in the division.
22. Los Angeles Clippers (20-34) February hasn’t been to kind to the Clippers, who have just one win and five losses. Luckily Febraury’s a short month.
23. Milaukee Bucks (20-33) Scott Skiles says it best: “One of the things we’ve talked about is, as of maybe three weeks ago, at some point, more than likely, we’re going to have to win seven out of eight or we’re going to have to really make a move. The Pacers have made one. So, normally, you get to the 20-some-game mark and there starts to be a little bit of separation. At some point, pretty quickly here, we have to go on that type of run or at least hang in very close.”
24. Detroit Pistons (20-35) The Pistons lone win last week came against the Cavs. It’s been that kind of year for the Pistons.
25. New Jersey Nets (17-38) The one thing going for the Nets is an incredibly tight-knit locker room. For a retrospective, the Nets took Derrick Favors over DeMarcus Cousins in the Draft. Read below for the rest.
26. Sacramento Kings (13-38) After DeMarcus Cousins practically chased Tyreke Evans into the locker room after not touching the ball on the final possession of a 99-97 loss to the Thunder, Cousins engaged in a fight with teammate Donte Greene. Cousins has been left home by the Kings, who ironically beat the surging Suns without him Sunday night. That gust of wind you just felt as Avery Johnson’s sigh of relief. Cousins was blanketed by Nick Collison on that play, for those interested.
27. Washington Wizards (14-38) The Wizards got that elusive road victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday. The next time you’ll hear about the Wizards is the Draft.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (13-41) Wins over the Hornets and Rockets were soon forgotton with losses to the Pacers and Sixers.
29. Toronto Raptors (15-40) The Raptors are only two games behind the Nets for last in the Atlantic. Let the games begin!
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (9-45) The Cavs snapped a 26-game losing streak with a win over the Clippers. A new losing streak began Sunday with a loss to the Wizards, who were once winless on the road.