1. Golden State Warriors (56-6)
The Golden State Warriors still look like they’ll have a chance to break the 1996 Chicago Bulls 72-10 NBA record. While they landed themselves on the wrong end of one of the greatest upsets in NBA regular season history with their loss against the Lakers, the Warriors are still the best team in the NBA. If anything, the loss to the Lakers just proves that Steph Curry is in fact human – DeMar DeRozan wasn’t the only one who had doubts.
He can't be human.
— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) February 28, 2016
2. San Antonio Spurs (54-10)
The San Antonio Spurs clinched the NBA playoffs for the 19th straight season. Where most teams have had numerous rebuilding stages, the Spurs just keep winning. Tim Duncan is about to turn 40 years old, and hasn’t recorded a 20 point game all season long, yet the Spurs are amidst a historic season. While the old big-3 in Duncan, Ginobli and Parker will be well rested to make a run in the playoffs, Kawhi Leonard is the clear future (and present) of the franchise. It is no surprise that the best defender in the NBA is leading the best defense in the NBA. The Spurs hold teams to 92 points per game, and still remain the largest threat to the Golden State Warriors out west.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (44-18)
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so much uncertainty and controversy over a team that sits at 1st place in their conference. Despite making it to the NBA Finals last season, and losing to the Warriors without 2 of their 3 All-Star caliber players, something doesn’t seem right. First, it was whether or not Kevin Love was the right fit for this Cleveland roster. Then, it was whether or not David Blatt was the right coach to lead this Cleveland roster. Now, word is out that LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are not on the same page. Even with all of that, the Cavaliers have something (or someone) that nobody else in the NBA has – LeBron James – and as long as they have LeBron James, they will remain in Championship contention.
4. Toronto Raptors (42-20)
Led by the star-power and consistency of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors remain one of the only threats to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. At 42-20, they are only 2 games out of first place in the East. What is most impressive is the Raptors performance against the most elite opponents in the NBA. Against the Top 4 teams in the Western Conference (Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers), the Raptors are 4-2; both losses came against the Golden State Warriors by a combined 8 points. Against the Cavaliers and Celtics (1st and 3rd in the Eastern Conference), the Raptors are 4-1, with the only loss coming @ Cleveland.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (41-21)
The Los Angeles Clippers have been playing without Blake Griffin since Christmas Day. The fact that they’ve been able to not only maintain, but improve their position in the Western Conference standings is a statement to the rest of the NBA. As of December 25th, the last time Blake Griffin played in an NBA game, the Clippers were 17-13. Since then, they’ve gone 24-8 and seem to have almost solidified themselves with home-court advantage in the playoffs. While they have a better record without Blake this season, their is no doubt the Clippers need him back on the court if they want any hope at an NBA Championship.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder (43-20)
With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder may have the best duo in the NBA. Even though the Thunder currently sit 3rd in the Western Conference, their may be some cause for concern. They are 3-6 since the NBA All-Star break, and while they’ve continued their offensive efficiency, their defensive effort has been lacking. Since the All-Star break, the Thunder are giving up 111 points per game – far more than the 103 points per game they usually allow. OKC is also now tied with the 76ers for most games lost (10) when entering the 4th quarter with the lead. The Thunder certainly have the star-power to win, but haven’t quite taken the next step.
7. Miami Heat (37-26)
Without Chris Bosh, the Miami Heat were expected to fall in the tight-knit Eastern Conference standings. That is not what has happened though. The Miami Heat are currently riding a 5 game win streak, and the Joe Johnson pick-up at the trade deadline has proven to be a great addition thus far. He is averaging 14 points per game, and has filled the scoring void left when Chris Bosh was sidelined. While the Heat need Bosh back in the lineup to have a chance of knocking off the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the addition of Joe Johnson definitely helps their chances.
8. Boston Celtics (38-26)
The Boston Celtics, led by genius head coach Brad Stevens, are far ahead of where most thought they’d be this season. With no superstar talent, it is really hard to believe they are a top 10 team in the NBA. The only All-Star caliber player the Celtics have is Isaiah Thomas, but that hasn’t stopped them from jumping up to 3rd place in the Eastern Conference. According to ESPN, a Celtics’ win over Memphis tonight would mark the 1st 14-game winning streak at home since 1991 – Larry Bird’s 2nd to last NBA season.
9. Charlotte Hornets (34-28)
Like the Celtics, the Charlotte Hornets are over-performing this season. Sitting with 34 wins, they now have more wins than they did in the entire 2014-2015 NBA season. More impressively, the Hornets have done it mostly without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Al Jefferson. They have won 8 of their last 10 games, which is tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference over that span. Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum are two of the most underrated players in the NBA, and they continue to carry this team into playoff contention.
10. Atlanta Hawks (36-28)
The Atlanta Hawks are riding a 3 game win streak. Similar to last season, the Hawks depend on a balanced attack, with no player averaging more than 18 points per game. They are 2nd in the NBA in assists, and are slowly but surely picking it up on the defensive end. Over their last 7 games, the Hawks have allowed only 89 points per game, and that is including 2 games against the Golden State Warriors. Korver is on pace to have his worst 3-pont shooting season since 2009 though, which certainly hasn’t helped.
11. Indiana Pacers (34-30)
According to ESPN, Paul George is just 1 of 3 players in the NBA to lead his team in points, rebounds, and steals. George is going to have to continue to put up impressive numbers if the Pacers want to hold on in the playoff hunt out east. While they’re only 5-5 in their last 10 games, the Pacers did just pick up a huge win against the San Antonio Spurs. As Ty Lawson and CJ Miles come back from injury, they should add some much needed depth down the stretch.
12. Portland Trailblazers (34-31)
The Trailblazers have created somewhat of a Splash Brothers 2.0 with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Damian Lillard made it known that he felt left out of the 2016 All-Star game. More importantly though, he has backed up his talk. Since the All-Star break, Lillard has averaged 34 points per game, and slung together TWO 50+ point performances – most notably in their win over the 1st place Golden State Warriors. The Trailblazers are another one of those teams who has over-performed this season. While they may not be in championship contention yet, Damian and CJ have made Portland’s rebuilding process a lot easier.
13. Memphis Grizzlies (38-25)
The Grizzlies currently sit at 5th place in the top-heavy Western Conference, and are still 4 games ahead of the Trailblazers for the time being. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games after the All-Star break – despite 2 shocking losses to the Phoenix Suns. Without Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley, the Grizzlies took down the lone powerhouse out East in Cleveland. This should be a good sign that the Grizzlies have not given up on this season, despite Marc Gasol’s early ending.
14. Chicago Bulls (32-30)
After Jimmy Butler went down with a knee sprain, the Bulls fell to 8th in the Eastern Conference standings. With Butler back, the Bulls should be fit to make the playoffs. With Butler, Joakim and Mirotic sidelined, players like Bobby Portis and Derrick Rose have been able to gain some confidence on the court. They now sit 4.5 games out of 4th place. It will be a tough road back to gaining home court advantage in the 1st round of the playoffs, but with Jimmy Butler back, I wouldn’t count it out of the question.
15. Detroit Pistons (32-31)
The Detroit Pistons are 5-2 over their last 7 games. The Tobias Harris signing before the trade deadline proves they are looking to make a run at the 2016 NBA playoffs. With a lot of young and inexperienced talent leading the team, Stan Van Gundy has his work cut out for him. Detroit currently sits at 9th place in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls sit at 8th place, and they just got Jimmy Butler back. Detroit is looking to end a 6 year playoff drought. It won’t be easy, but they have the talent to do it.
16. Dallas Mavericks (33-31)
It’s hard to fathom how good Dirk has been for so long, but somehow he keeps carrying this Dallas Mavericks team. At the age of 37, Nowitzki has been able to carry the franchise all season long. As far as Dirk’s supporting cast, Deron Williams and Zaza Pachulia have played surprisingly well this season, keeping Dallas as almost a lock to make the playoffs. Chandler Parsons has also finally found his groove, and has been a key member for the Mavs. Dallas is certainly a step down from the title contenders, but they could definitely give teams some trouble in the early rounds of the postseason.
17. Houston Rockets (31-32)
It has been quite a bumpy ride for the 2015-16 Houston Rockets thus far. At the beginning of the season, everyone kept waiting and waiting for them to turn things around, but they haven’t quite figured it out yet. With less than 20 games left in the season, Houston is currently the 8th seed in the West, and they are in danger of falling out of the playoffs. If Houston is going to secure a playoff spot, they must do something about their defense. Dwight Howard is no longer the defensive anchor he once was, and by now we’ve all seen the clips of Harden’s poor effort on the defensive end. On top of all that, there is clearly some locker room issues going on that need to be solved. All of the rumors around the deadline only added fuel to the fire. Let’s see if they can put that fire out, and get some chemistry going in the final stretch.
18. Washington Wizards (30-33)
It has become evident this season that John Wall desperately needs more help around him in DC. Bradley Beal has actually been healthy as of late, but his on-court presence is always a bit unreliable. Washington’s first rounder Kelly Oubre hasn’t shown much for fans to be encouraged about this season either. The Wizards brought in Markieff Morris at the deadline, which was a nice move to help Washington run small-ball. But, Wall needs more help than that. There is still a chance the Wiz make the playoffs this season, but this summer they will have a lot of choices to make. Randy Wittman is going to be on the hot seat, and they must decide if he is the right guy going forward. How much should they pay Beal is another question that will come up. Lastly, if Kevin Durant elects not to go to DC, what is the backup plan? Washington has to add some talent around Wall soon before he decides it’s time to find a new team.
19. Utah Jazz (29-34)
Considering how many rumors there were about Utah at the deadline, I was pretty disappointed the Jazz were unable to pull off a trade. There were several reports about potential deals for guys like Jeff Teague and Ty Lawson, yet Utah didn’t make a move. As a bubble team on the cusp of getting into the playoffs, one would think a trade could have helped push them over the top. Since no moves were made, Utah must find a way to catch Houston in the next few weeks. With the amount of struggles Houston has had this season, this is a very feasible goal. If Utah makes the playoffs this season, it would be the first time since 2012. Let’s see if they can get it done.
20. Milwaukee Bucks (26-38)
The Milwaukee Bucks won’t be in the playoffs this season, and it’s a bit of a disappointment when looking at how much talent they have. MCW, Monroe, Jabari Parker, and the Greek Freak all have a lot of skill, but they haven’t quite figured out how to convert those individual skills into effective team basketball. However, the biggest bright spot for Milwaukee this season has been the Greek Freak. He has shown this year that he truly something special, and an athlete that is remarkable to watch. Milwaukee has a lot to build upon for the future, so while the present isn’t great, the future is bright.
21. Sacramento Kings (25-37)
Not surprisingly, the Sacramento Kings elected to keep DeMarcus Cousins past the trade deadline. This was without question the right move for now. Down the road, those trade talks will likely be revisited. Presently, they have a much bigger issue at hand. Sacramento had been in and out of the 8th seed for a while, and they have dropped down considerably. The playoffs are likely a pipe dream at this point and it seems they have fallen back too far to recover. It would have been nice to see the Kings prove everyone wrong by making the playoffs, but it seems most people were right in that they would have too many internal issues to solve.
22. Orlando Magic (27-36)
The Orlando Magic were one of the more active teams at the trade deadline this year, but being active isn’t always a good thing. After paying Tobias Harris in Free Agency this summer, they shipped him to Detroit at the deadline in exchange for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova. While Jennings and Ilyasova are serviceable players, they are not building blocks for the future. Harris was a young player who has a promising future who they may regret sending away. In their last 10 games, Orlando has won just 3 games. Worst of all, they are losing to teams they should be beating, like the Lakers and Knicks. This team has a lot to figure out, and it looks like they’ll miss the playoffs once again this season. They’ll have a lot of money to spend in free agency, but can they land a big fish? That is the million dollar question.
23. New Orleans Pelicans (24-38)
Just when New Orleans was starting to turn things around, they hit another road block. The Pelicans announced the other day that Eric Gordon had successful surgery and would be out for the remainder of the season. Gordon has always been an injury-prone guy, and has proven to be unreliable as a member of Anthony Davis’ supporting cast. The supporting cast has really been the issue for Davis’ Pelicans this year. Davis himself has played well, but outside of Ryan Anderson he hasn’t had much help. Not to mention, the Pelicans will probably lose Anderson in free agency this summer. After sneaking into the playoffs last season, it looks like New Orleans will come up short this year. They’ll have to put some more pieces around Davis this summer to get this team in contention.
24. Denver Nuggets (26-38)
If we told you at the beginning of the season that Denver’s best rookie would be Nikola Jokic, you would have thought we were crazy. But, with under 20 games left Jokic has shown much more promise than Mudiay thus far, which has been a pleasant surprise for Denver fans. This isn’t a knock on Mudiay, it is just a testament to how good Jokic has been. Denver won’t be a playoff team this year, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone, but they do have a nice core to build around. If Mudiay can develop a jumper, and continue to learn how to run the point he can be a very good point guard in the future. Galinari and Faried are both very solid starters as well. We’ll see how Denver continues to build around these guys in the future.
25. New York Knicks (26-39)
The Knicks started the season out on quite a good note. Porzingis shocked the world by dominating, and Melo was actually distributing the ball pretty well. Fast forward to now, and things are back to the way they’ve been the past few years for the Knicks. They recently fired head coach Derek Fisher, Melo has been disappointing as of late, and Porzingis hit the rookie wall. In a matter of weeks, the Knicks completely dropped out of playoff contention, and will certainly miss the postseason. Worst of all, there is a lack of clarity about their future. Melo really should be traded since his title window won’t line up with Porzingis. But, his no-trade clause puts the Knicks in an awkward spot. The best thing for NY would be if Melo continues to be frustrated with the lack of success and asks for a trade. That would be the best way for them to move on and focus on the future as opposed to being stuck between win-now mode and re-building mode.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-45)
The 2015 NBA draft looks like it’s going to be one of the most talented classes in quite some time. The leader of that group is Karl-Anthony Towns. Few teams in NBA history have been able to immediately see that they have found their franchise player for the future, but that has happened to Minnesota. Towns is the real deal. It’s hard to remember a rookie who has been this dominant in the past few seasons. The T-Wolves won’t be in the playoffs this year, but that’s probably a good thing. They’ll get the chance to add another top pick to LaVine, Wiggins, and Towns. This young core is going to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
27. Brooklyn Nets (18-46)
The Nets have won 4 out of their last 10 games, which is actually better than any of the other teams in the bottom 5. However, Brooklyn is still 18-46 and will have no lottery pick to show for it at the end of the season. With a new GM at the helm, it is time for the Nets to focus on the future. In the scheme of things, this season is now fairly irrelevant. From here on, Sean Marks has a lot of work to do to get this team into contention. We’ll see how that turns out for them.
28. Los Angeles Lakers (14-51)
They’ve only got 14 wins this season, but the Lakers somehow found a way to beat the Warriors the other night. More importantly, the future is finally starting to look bright in LA. After a rough start to the season, D’Angelo Russell has finally found his way. Since he was put back into the starting lineup, Russell has averaged 20.7 points per game on 49.4% from the field and 56.4% from 3-point range. Russell also scored a career-high 39 points against Brooklyn and made 8 3-pointers in the game. Julius Randle is also having a very solid year after missing all of last season. Randle has 28 double-doubles this season, which is more than anyone in his draft class, and anyone in the rookie class except for Towns. Jordan Clarkson is backing up his rookie year with a very solid sophomore season as well. Larry Nance Jr. has also been a pleasant surprise for the Lakers this season. Outside of his incredible leaping ability, Nance has developed a very reliable mid-range jumper. The losses will continue to pile up for LA, but as long as the young core continues to develop and they keep the pick, this season may not be as bad as the record shows.
29. Phoenix Suns (17-46)
No team has been more disappointing than the Phoenix Suns this season. Each week they continue to fall further and further in the standings. Presently, they are 14th in the West, ahead of only the Lakers. On the bright side, Devin Booker has been quite impressive as of late. Booker is an incredibly pure shooter, but has also shown he has the ability to create his own shot. While this season is a bit ugly, things should turn around a bit for Phoenix next season. With a healthy Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, a top pick, and a free agent signing, the Suns could have a nice season in 2016-17.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (8-55)
The 76ers have had a brutal season, and it hasn’t helped them being without Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel recently. Prior to his injury though, Jahlil Okafor had not quite been getting the praise he deserved. Okafor has been dominant in the low-post this season, putting up big numbers game after game, especially for a rookie. After a lot of negative publicity early on in the year, Okafor has been having himself a very good rookie campaign. Noel has also shown flashes of very strong play throughout the year. One big question mark for the Sixers is their other big man, Joel Embiid. They need to figure out what his situation will be before they can consider moving one of these 3 big men. The Sixers roster is loaded with young guys, and they will continue to add to that this summer. They will have their own 1st rounder, which currently has the highest odds at the first pick, the Lakers pick if it falls out of the top 3, and 2 other first rounders. The future certainly doesn’t look quite as bad as it once did for Philly.