Ranking the League from worst to first…
30. New Jersey Nets (0-17) — Can we just give Chris Douglas-Roberts (16.4 ppg) the Most Improved Player award out of pity? The kid only lost 10 games total in three years of college, and now he’s dealing with this.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (2-15) — Once they get Kevin Love back, they’ll have a real good shot at winning 11 or even 12 games this year.
28. New York Knicks (3-14) — Danilo Gallinari is leading the NBA in three-pointers made, sticking 48 through 17 games. So they’ve got that going for them.
27. Philadelphia 76ers (5-12) — Six straight losses, two starters (Lou Williams and Elton Brand) and one key reserve (Marreese Speights) are out with injuries, and we’re still not sure how much of a franchise guy their franchise guy is.
26. Detroit Pistons (6-11) — Will Bynum is the biggest bargain in the League, getting paid less than $830K to provide 14 points and four assists a night. Don’t worry about Will, though; he’s in a contract year and will get broken off nicely next summer.
25. Memphis Grizzlies (6-11) — It doesn’t look like much on paper, but Hasheem Thabeet’s 9-point, 6-rebound, 3-block stat line against Portland last Friday was a significant step in him turning into a solid NBA player someday.
24. Los Angeles Clippers (8-10) — Blake Griffin should be back in a couple of weeks, right?
23. Indiana Pacers (6-8) — Of all the problems people expected Tyler Hansbrough to have in the NBA, who would have thought durability/injuries would be one of them? He was like John McClane at UNC.
22. Golden State Warriors (5-10) — You have to at least give the players credit for pulling off some hard-fought wins with a lot stacked against them.
21. Sacramento Kings (8-8) — Did you see where injuries forced Kenny Thomas into starting at center on Sunday? Kenny Thomas? Aren’t there like five or six coaches in the League younger than him?
20. Washington Wizards (5-10) — They beat Miami on the road with a crunch-time backcourt of Earl Boykins and Nick Young.
19. Chicago Bulls (6-8) — Coming off a 1-4 West Coast road trip where each loss was by an average of 19 points.
18. Toronto Raptors (7-11) — You couldn’t have really asked for any more from Chris Bosh; he’s scoring 25 points a night and challenging for the League lead in rebounds. The rest of the guys need to step up consistently.
17. Charlotte Bobcats (7-9) — The least talked-about four-game win streak in the League will be tested against Boston on Tuesday.
16. Milwaukee Bucks (8-7) — Michael Redd came back for a few games, appeared to clash with Brandon Jennings as to who is The Man on this team, and now he’s back on the sidelines until his injury full heals. So we’ll go through this again whenever Redd is healthy.
15. New Orleans Hornets (7-10) — James Posey has been doing his job lately: Playing D, hitting threes, making those veteran intangible plays that win games. It’s just worth so much more on a contending team.
14. Utah Jazz (9-7) — In blowout wins against the Blazers and Bulls over the holiday weekend, the Jazz looked as strong as any team in the League.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (9-8) — Are they for real? Friday’s game against Boston will tell us something, but wait until the middle of December when OKC gets Cleveland, Denver, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, the Lakers and Phoenix over a 10-day stretch.
12. Houston Rockets (9-8) — The defense was horrible against Dallas, and the offense went through anemic stretches against San Antonio. But you’re gonna get that with a young team where nobody is used to being the main man on this level.
11. San Antonio Spurs (9-7) — More importantly than the five-game win streak, the defense is performing up to Gregg Popovich’s standards. Well, almost up to his standards.
10. Miami Heat (9-7) — Mario Chalmers (10.4 ppg, 4.3 apg) looks quicker and is more aggressive going to the rack. He’s always been a trouble-starter on defense, but now he’s becoming a factor on the other end.
9. Portland Trail Blazers (12-7) — They looked uncharacteristically bad in losses to the Grizzlies and Jazz over the weekend. Brandon Roy and crew have a chance to get back on track against Miami and Houston this week before going on an Eastern Conference road trip.
8. Denver Nuggets (12-5) — Kobe, LeBron, D-Wade; now Carmelo has his career game against the Knicks after dropping 50 on NY. Who’s next?
7. Dallas Mavericks (12-5) — Jason Kidd recently passed Mark Jackson for second on the NBA’s career assists list. He’s still about 5,500 dimes behind John Stockton, which at his current pace of 750 or so per year, means he’d have to play about seven more seasons (as a starter) to catch Stock.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers (12-5) — Does Shaq know what happened to Tiger Woods? Surely the Big Police Chief or whatever it is knows something about his neighbor’s car crash.
5. Atlanta Hawks (12-5) — Josh Smith is making his case for All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year, but before all that he needs to get his free-throw percentage up. Fifty-six percent isn’t good enough.
4. Boston Celtics (13-4) — Better than putting up numbers across the board, Rajon Rondo is making plays in crunch time. He helped win Sunday’s game at Miami with his scoring and distributing in the fourth quarter.
3. Orlando Magic (14-4) — Vince Carter isn’t living or dying by the three; he’s averaging 23 points over the last five games despite hitting only 25% beyond the arc.
2. Phoenix Suns (14-3) — Seventeen games in, and the Suns have yet to score under 100 points. But with all the shots being thrown around whenever Phoenix plays, Amar’e should be averaging more than 6.9 rebounds a night.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (13-3) — Detroit, Chicago, OKC, New York, Golden State and New Jersey, and the only road game in there was a long car ride up to the Bay Area. The Lakers’ six-game win streak hasn’t come against the greatest competition, but at least they’re taking care of business against the the teams they’re supposed to beat.