The All-Star break is fast approaching, signalling the turn onto the finishing stretch as teams make a break for post-season seeds or consolidate their descent to the depths for a stronger lottery chance.
The past week has thrown up a range of eyebrow-raising results and a pair of baffling performances from games involving the two Los Angeles-based teams.
In we go.
All records and statistics are correct as of Tuesday 11th February 2014.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (41-12)
Kevin Durant has lit the league on fire and is on his way to a career-high season average of 31.1 points per game. And they get Russell Westbrook back for the stretch run to the playoffs. Unfair.
2. Indiana Pacers (39-11)
We’ll ignore the result against Orlando, one of the stranger ends to an NBA game you’ll see in a while. The Pacers haven’t been outright destroying opponents so much of late (except the Nuggets), but they still grind out the wins and hold what should be an unassailable lead for the East’s top seed.
3. Miami Heat (35-14)
Some will push the Heat down for losing to the Utah Jazz this week. Of Miami’s 14 losses, 10 have come to sub-.500 teams. However, that suggests a team needing a challenge, as they clearly have enough to take on the better teams in the league.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (36-18)
Got Chris Paul back, played the Sixers and were up by as much as 56 points. These three things may be related. Also, Blake Griffin has been unbelievable since Paul went down and has single-handedly kept the Clippers alive during that stretch.
5. Houston Rockets (35-17)
Houston had a solid week, including an impressive 14-point win against the Suns. Now holding a five-game winning streak. Will they move Omer Asik by the trade deadline?
6. San Antonio Spurs (37-15)
Injuries. Injuries everywhere for the Spurs. They need the All-Star break so they can get healthy for an important stretch run. With teams as good as Phoenix and Golden State probably landing in the bottom half of the playoff bracket, positioning will be critical.
7. Dallas Mavericks (31-21)
This really wasn’t how this season was supposed to go but nobody’s complaining. Dirk’s final few years should at least have some playoff appearances.
8. Phoenix Suns (30-20)
Hands up who had the Suns here this far into the season? Not even the Suns front office expected this incredible season. Jeff Hornacek needs one more miracle to qualify for sainthood.
9. Portland Trail Blazers (36-15)
Portland’s defense, bad all season but bailed out by the offense, could be a real worry in the postseason, where scoring is generally lower. The bench is still a sore point too, though tighter rotations in the playoffs will help.
10. Golden State Warriors (31-21)
Beat the Bulls in a comeback then ran into the Phoenix Suns’ offensive buzz-saw. Only won five of their last ten and are firmly on the outside of the race for homecourt advantage in the playoffs.
11. Brooklyn Nets (23-26)
Remember how bad the Nets were in the first two months? Credit must be given to Jason Kidd, who has turned it around after a rocky start.
12. Memphis Grizzlies (27-23)
Regressing slightly after that impressive winning streak got their season back on track. Only the Clippers hold a winning record over their next five games.
13. Chicago Bulls (25-25)
Is there another coach in the league who is able to turn players nobody wants into viable options in an NBA offense as well as Tom Thibodeau? Answers on a postcard please.
14. Toronto Raptors (27-24)
The decision by Chris Grant in Cleveland to take Tristan Thompson over Jonas Valanciunas could have cost him his job. Valanciunas is on course to become a very good NBA big man in a few years.
15. Atlanta Hawks (25-24)
It’s like somebody has a set of voodoo dolls of Hawks players and is sticking needles into different body parts.
16. Minnesota Timberwolves (24-28)
Nursing a four-game slide, the Wolves play the Pacers, Blazers and Suns in their next five. NBA schedules can be brutal at times.
17. Washington Wizards (25-25)
Despite another slow start, the Wizards finally moved above .500 for the first time since Halloween 2009 and should secure that elusive playoff berth this season.
18. New Orleans Pelicans (22-29)
Anthony Davis was named as an injury backup for the West’s All-Star team, replacing Kobe Bryant. Biggest no-brainer of the year for a guy who should’ve been in from the start.
19. Orlando Magic (16-37)
Big leap for Orlando this week – they beat the two best teams in the league in back-to-back games. What’s more impressive is beating the Thunder and Pacers after trailing by double digits to both. Jacque Vaughn is coaching these guys into a future threat.
20. Charlotte Bobcats (22-29)
Still holding a playoff spot, which is nice. Impressive win in Oakland, holding the Warriors to just 75 points on their own floor.
21. New York Knicks (20-31)
Mike Woodson thinks he’ll be sacked by the All-Star game and noise amongst fans suggests they should trade Carmelo Anthony before he leaves for nothing. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
22. Denver Nuggets (24-26)
Denver’s rollercoaster continues. Losses to the Knicks and Pistons undo the positive momentum from wins against the Clippers and Bucks.
23. Sacramento Kings (17-34)
The Kings may not be good right now, but they have plenty of solid pieces to build with. DeMarcus Cousins looks like he has finally figured it out while Isaiah Thomas continues to defy those who passed over him in the draft, i.e. everybody.
24. Detroit Pistons (22-29)
Joe Dumars has now employed eight head coaches in 14 years as GM, not counting interims. A petition was also filed to the White House to get Rasheed Wallace the job. Go Pistons.
25. Utah Jazz (17-33)
They’ve been regressing a little of late but came up with a nice win against the Heat on the back of strong play by Derrick Favors and Richard Jefferson. It takes a lot to hold LeBron to just four made shots.
26. Boston Celtics (16-34)
How long until a seemingly innocuous collision rules Rajon Rondo out for the season? Embrace the tank, Boston.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (18-33)
Fired General Manager Chris Grant this week which seems like a rather futile move given the lack of cohesion on the floor is something he cannot change quickly. Then you examine his body of work and nod silently in agreement.
28. Los Angeles Lakers (18-33)
Took part in the most bizarre game of the season as they were left with only four eligible players thanks to injury and foul trouble. Did anybody really know the rule that allowed Robert Sacre to play on after fouling out?
29. Milwaukee Bucks (9-41)
Trade chatter linking the Bucks with Cleveland’s Dion Waiters. Not seeing why this is necessary or even plausible.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (15-38)
Lost by 45 to the Clippers and followed up by losing by 43 against Golden State. Outscored by 88 points in two games? Welcome to the basement.
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