10. Atlanta Hawks (30-18) — Joe Johnson probably won’t get any MVP votes at the end of the day, but he is as valuable to his team as anybody in the League. In January he averaged 26.0 points on 50% shooting from the field while the Hawks went 9-4.
9. New Orleans Hornets (31-18) — Defense wins, and the Hornets currently have the 2nd-best defense in the League. Emeka Okafor and David West protecting the rim allows Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza to gamble for steals.
8. Dallas Mavericks (31-15) — Following tune-up wins over the Nets, Clippers and Rockets, the Mavs seemed to find their swagger in Saturday’s win over the Hawks. Jason Terry is averaging 20.3 points in his last three games, and handed out 11 dimes against Atlanta.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder (30-17) — Running a two-man offense with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is working now, but what happens in a seven-game series when the opponent can adjust from game to game? A third option needs to step up, whether it’s James Harden or Jeff Green.
6. Orlando Magic (31-17) — We already know their style does work well enough to make the Finals, and Dwight Howard has never been better. So why couldn’t they go all the way?
5. Chicago Bulls (33-14) — The silver lining is that Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah’s legs will be fresh down the stretch. But then how will Derrick Rose hold up after having to carry the team since Opening Night?
4. Los Angeles Lakers (33-15) — Even the most cocky L.A. fans have to be getting a little concerned that the Lakers can’t seem to beat any elite opponents. The Celtics, Spurs, Heat and Mavs have all beat L.A. convincingly in their most recent meeting.
3. Miami Heat (33-14) — Take away two or three points per game (26.1 ppg), and LeBron is putting up pretty much the exact same numbers he put up in each of his last two MVP seasons.
2. San Antonio Spurs (40-7) — No team is playing better basketball right now, but the Spurs have proven to be vulnerable in the playoffs recently even when they are healthy. Tim Duncan is either doing an excellent job of pacing himself, or he really can’t take over at will anymore. I lean towards “A,” but it could be “B.”
1. Boston Celtics (36-11) — The No. 1 defense in the League, the No. 1 playmaking point guard in the League, the No. 1 shooter in the League, arguably the most reliable clutch scorer in the League, and they just got their best 1-on-1 post defender back from injury. The C’s are built to beat anybody when it matters most.