The All-Star weekend came and went, and Carmelo Anthony’s trade saga stole the headlines.
While no deal has been completed yet, the New York Knicks appear to be the frontrunners for his services. Anthony would make the Knicks an instant contender, but the New Jersey Nets and Denver Nuggets remain in the market for the star forward.
The Nets have the most to offer the Nuggets, but Denver brass likes the idea of acquiring Derrick Favors and four first-round draft picks.
The days leading up to the Feb. 24 trade deadline could reshape the playoff landscape.
Until then, on to the rankings:
1. San Antonio Spurs (46-10) The Spurs will slow down during the latter stretch of the season, but health is the key for Gregg Popovich’s team. Accumulating 10 losses by All-Star weekend is worthy of first place in the Rankings, but a healthy squad come playoff-time is worthy of a championship.
2. Boston Celtics (40-14) Boston, who has been the best Eastern team to date, has one advantage over the conference’s other elite teams. The Celtics are battle-tested. This group has shown it can win year in and year out. This year is no different.
3. Miami Heat (41-15) After a 9-8 start, the Heat is 32-7. The difference in the playoffs will be James Jones, the three-point champion, and Mike Miller. A must-win game will come down to a last-second shot, and one of these players will get an open look.
4. Chicago Bulls (38-16) The Bulls have been a dominant team without their heart and soul, Joakim Noah. Now that he’s set to return, we’ll see if Chicago is a championship threat.
5. Dallas Mavericks (40-16) Not many teams will go 13-of-14 in a month and then make a change in the starting lineup at shooting guard. Roddy Beaubois played his first game on Feb. 16 and scored 13 points in 21 minutes. Maybe the Mavericks are deep enough to make a Finals push…
6. Orlando Magic (36-21) If not for Derrick Rose’s play during Noah’s absence, Dwight Howard would be eyeing an MVP award. Besides Amar’e Stoudemire with the Knicks, no player has the weight on his shoulders that Howard does in Orlando. Hence the talk of his leaving in 2012.
7. Los Angeles Lakers (38-19) The Lakers have always been contenders because of their championship pedigree, but a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers (10-46) will send even the calmest of people running towards the panic button. The Lakers dropped a 104-99 decision to a team they previously beat by 55…and off a game where Phil Jackson labeled the performance as “embarrassing.” Jackson’s thoughts following a loss to the Cavs: “They are more athletic than we are as a basketball team.”
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (35-19) Kevin Durant’s team has a far better showing in the first 54 games than he did in the 3-point Contest Saturday night. Hopefully that sideshow game won’t affect his stroke like a home run derby does to a baseball player.
9. New Orleans Hornets (33-25) The Hornets catch a break with the schedule. A three-game losing streak meets the Los Angeles Clippers and Minnesota Timberwolves out of the break.
10. Memphis Grizzlies (31-26) The Memphis Grizzles have won four straight games and are 1.5 games out of fifth in the West. They’ll have no problem passing the tumbling Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets. Who knew Zach Randolph was this good when he was on the New York Knicks?
11. Portland Trail Blazers (32-24) LaMarcus Aldridge has my vote for MVP. If only I could explain how didn’t make the Western All-Stars.
12. Atlanta Hawks (34-21) Barring a massive letdown following the All-Star break, the Hawks will finish fifth in the Eastern Conference. Their reward? A first-round date with the Magic.
13. Phoenix Suns (27-27) There are two events likely to occur in the remaining 28 games: 1) the Nuggets and Jazz will fall out of the playoffs, 2) two teams out of the Grizzlies, Suns, and Warriors will take their places.
14. Golden State Warriors (26-29) The Warriors are on a three-game winning streak against teams with a combined record of 99-70 (.586).The playoffs aren’t out of the question for a group with talented players like Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry, and David Lee.
15. New York Knicks (28-26) The Knicks are dragging their feet on the Carmelo Anthony deal, and one has to wonder why. Asking for Felton, Gallinari, Chandler, plus is a king’s ransom, but keep in mind this team missed out on the last King to hit free agency. They become instant contenders with Anthony and Amar’e in tow.
16. Philadelphia 76ers (27-29) The Sixers are a solid NBA team, with a seven or eight seed being pretty accurate for their talent level. Defense and a strong bench make Philly a dangerous squad.
17. Denver Nuggets (32-25) Losing Carmelo Anthony drops the Nuggets out of the contender category, but the playoffs are realistic providing they rob a team like the Knicks of Felton, Gallinari, and Chandler.
18. Utah Jazz (31-26) Deron Williams made it known that he wants to play with Amar’e and the Knicks in 2012. The Jazz are officially in free-fall mode.
19. Indiana Pacers (24-30) The Pacers need a 3-0 week against the Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, and Jazz to make up for back-to-back losses last week. Maybe it’s just me, but Troy Murphy would be a good fit back in his old stomping grounds after his mess with the Nets sorts itself out next week.
20. Charlotte Bobcats (24-32) Beating the Lakers said a lot about this team, unfortunately they’re on the outside looking in in the East. Paul Silas was also rewarded with a contract extension after taking over for the embattled Larry Brown.
21. Houston Rockets (26-31) Nets fans must cringe when they see Courtney Lee dropping 22 points, grabbing six rebounds, and dishing out four assists off the bench for the Rockets, especially when he was practically given away. Ironically, the Nets are now trying to give away the reward from that trade, Troy Murphy.
22. Los Angeles Clippers (21-35) Blake Griffin’s leaping ability was on display in his Dunk Contest championship. Too bad he couldn’t do the same for his team in the standings… On to the next one!
23. Milwaukee Bucks (21-34) Just when it looks like the Bucks have lost too many games to make the playoffs, a glance at the standings shows they’re just 3.5 games out.
24. Detroit Pistons (21-36) Good to know that Tayshaun Prince hasn’t set his sights too high following a win over the Pacers before the break: “Just because we got this win doesn’t mean we need to keep playing. We’ve won a game, then lost two or three, and we’ve been doing that all season.”
25. New Jersey Nets (17-40) The Nets have two trades on the table: 1) a sensible one with the Portland Trail Blazers, and 2) a fleecing with the Nuggets for Carmelo Anthony. Guess which one they should make?
26. Sacramento Kings (13-40) The Kings are better than their record indicates. With so many big men in tow and a number of assets, it’s interesting to see what the Kings will do at the deadline.
27. Washington Wizards (15-39) Flip Saunders with the quote of the week. Following a blowout loss to the Magic: “We reverted back to our old form.” When did they have a new form?
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (13-43) Kevin Love made the Western Conference All-Stars. That’s about it in Minnesota.
29. Toronto Raptors (15-41) The good news for the Raptors is there are several players at the top of the Draft that will fill a major need. Jared Sullinger or Derrick Williams would fit well alongside Andrea Bargnani.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (10-46) The city of Cleveland deserved that 104-99 win over the Lakers, a team that previously beat them by 55. Despite the Cavs’ struggles, the fans keep showing up night after night.