Ranking the NBA from worst to first…
30. New Jersey Nets (2-29)
Last week: Lost to Minnesota; lost to Houston; lost to Oklahoma City.
Back in the lineup after missing almost two whole months, Yi Jianlian averaged 22.7 points and 7.0 rebounds last week, including a career-high 29 points against OKC. Not that Yi’s return has translated into any W’s, but it’s something.
29. Indiana Pacers (9-20)
Last week: Lost at Boston; lost to Atlanta; lost at Miami.
Six losses in a row have raised questions about Jim O’Brien’s job security, although Larry Bird says O’Brien isn’t going anywhere. From top to bottom, does any division in the League have worse coaches than the Central? Mike Brown ain’t exactly Lenny Wilkens, and he’s at the top of a group that consists of Scott Skiles, Vinny Del Negro, O’Brien and John Kuester. In a related story, four of the Central’s five teams are playing sub-.500 basketball.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (7-24)
Last week: Lost to Atlanta; won at New Jersey; beat Washington.
Just as they’re trying to put a little momentum together, the Wolves get San Antonio, Utah and Orlando on the schedule this week.
27. Washington Wizards (10-19)
Last week: Beat Philadelphia; won at Milwaukee; lost at Minnesota; lost at Memphis.
Wasn’t Randy Foye supposed to make a big impact here? So far he’s averaging a quiet 7.3 points while bouncing between starting and coming off the bench.
26. Philadelphia 76ers (8-22)
Last week: Lost at Washington; lost at Utah; won at Portland.
Allen Iverson is back, and he teamed with Lou Williams to help Philly upset the Blazers on Monday. Maybe this will work out after all.
25. Chicago Bulls (11-17)
Last week: Lost at New York; beat New Orleans.
It’s basically any day now for Vinny Del Negro. So who should be the Bulls’ next coach? Avery Johnson is a popular pick, but he’s notorious for micro-managing his point guards. Is that a good thing or a bad thing for Derrick Rose? Would Mark Jackson be a name worth considering?
24. Detroit Pistons (11-19)
Last week: Lost at Charlotte; lost to Toronto; lost at Toronto.
The losing streak is at seven, but the Pistons finally have Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Ben Gordon back in the lineup, and this week they host the Knicks and Bulls.
23. Golden State Warriors (9-21)
Last week: Lost at Memphis; lost at New Orleans; beat Phoenix; beat Boston.
Monta Ellis has scored 35.0 ppg over the last three, including wins over the Suns and Celtics, while sitting down for just three minutes total during that stretch.
22. New York Knicks (11-19)
Last week: Beat Chicago; lost to Miami; lost to San Antonio.
Is David Lee a product of the system, or a soon-to-be victim of the system? Despite putting up 18.4 points and 10.8 boards a night, Lee doesn’t seem to be getting any All-Star talk.
21. Charlotte Bobcats (12-17)
Last week: Beat Detroit; lost at Oklahoma City; beat Milwaukee.
If Stephen Jackson can improve his 28% three-point shooting, the ‘Cats can improve the League’s third-worst scoring offense.
20. Milwaukee Bucks (12-17)
Last week: Lost to Washington; lost to San Antonio; lost at Charlotte.
Michael Redd appeared to be headed back to his old form when he dropped 32 points (15-15 FT) on the Wizards, but then was held to six points against the Spurs and was benched for the entire second half against the Bobcats. It’s clear this isn’t Redd’s team anymore, so where does he fit into the picture?
19. Toronto Raptors (15-17)
Last week: Won at Detroit; beat Detroit.
You want evidence that the East is top-heavy? The Raptors are two games under .500, and they’re holding the sixth seed in the conference. Has any conference ever had three sub-.500 squads cracking its playoff bracket?
18. L.A. Clippers (13-17)
Last week: Lost at Houston; lost at Phoenix; beat Boston.
The Clips upset the Celtics at Staples Center last year too, and it led to nothing substantial. Let’s see if they do something with the momentum this time.
17. New Orleans Hornets (13-15)
Last week: Beat Golden State; lost at Chicago.
We’re headed for a scenario where one of the indisputable 10 best players in the NBA (Chris Paul) plays for a team that finishes last-place in its division. The Hornets are looking up at Memphis, Houston, San Antonio and Dallas in the Southwest.
16. Memphis Grizzlies (14-16)
Last week: Beat Golden State; lost at Dallas; beat Washington.
At the two-month checkpoint, #2 overall draft pick Hasheem Thabeet is still looking for his first double-figure scoring game, has had five appearances where he didn’t get a rebound, and is averaging 2.9 points, 3.3 boards and 1.1 blocks in 10 minutes a night. Did we mention he was the #2 overall pick in the draft?
15. Sacramento Kings (14-16)
Last week: Lost to Cleveland; lost to L.A. Lakers; beat Denver.
An overtime loss to the Cavs, a double-OT loss to the Lakers, and a win over the Nuggets while Tyreke Evans was out injured. You couldn’t really ask for a better 1-2 week.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder (16-14)
Last week: Lost at L.A. Lakers; won at Phoenix; beat Charlotte; won at New Jersey.
Conversations about the Thunder begin and end with Kevin Durant, but Russell Westbrook has been kind of a beast lately; averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 boards and 8.6 dimes in his last five games.
13. Miami Heat (16-12)
Last week: Beat Utah; won at New York; beat Indiana.
Defense has been the key in this three-game win streak, as Miami held the Jazz, Knicks and Pacers to 79 points per game.
12. San Antonio Spurs (17-11)
Last week: Lost to Portland; won at Milwaukee; won at New York.
How is such a battle-tested roster just 2-10 against teams with above-.500 records?
11. Utah Jazz (17-13)
Last week: Lost at Miami; beat Philadelphia.
Three crucial Northwest Division games this week with Minnesota and OKC on the road, then Denver at home. The Wolves game is one of those where you need to take care of business if you want to avoid a situation late in the season when you’re one game out of a playoff seed and looking back at all the games you let get away.
10. Houston Rockets (18-13)
Last week: Beat L.A. Clippers; lost at Orlando; won at New Jersey; lost at Cleveland.
Unless another team has $23 million in expiring contracts they’d want to give up for T-Mac, the Rockets would be best served just keeping Mac around and giving him some more playing time. Nobody said you have to gear the offense around him again.
9. Denver Nuggets (20-12)
Last week: Beat Atlanta; lost at Portland; lost at Dallas; lost at Sacramento.
Chauncey Billups returned for a few minutes in the Christmas Day loss to the Blazers, but was benched for the second half and then held out of losses to the Mavs and Kings.
8. Orlando Magic (22-8)
Last week: Beat Houston; lost to Boston.
NBA TV’s Rick Kamla recently said something like, “Vince Carter needs to take fewer shots so Dwight Howard can get more shots. It’s that simple.” Uhh, no it’s not. Vince isn’t taking anything away from Dwight — defenses are figuring out how to guard Dwight. If Dwight gives them a reason not to foul him all the time, he’ll find himself getting more looks.
7. Phoenix Suns (20-12)
Last week: Lost to Oklahoma City; beat L.A. Clippers; lost at Golden State; beat L.A. Lakers.
During Monday’s win over the Lakers, one of the Suns’ announcers said something like, “If Louis Amundson played 48 minutes, he’d grab 15 rebounds.” True. And if Louis Amundson played 48 minutes, his team would win 15 games.
6. Portland Trail Blazers (20-13)
Last week: Won at Dallas; won at San Antonio; beat Denver; lost to Philadelphia.
Knocking off the Mavs, Spurs and Nuggets in the same week would be tough with a full roster, and should be impossible with a banged-up crew with no center and Brandon Roy missing one of those games with a sore shoulder.
5. Atlanta Hawks (21-8)
Last week: Won at Minnesota; lost at Denver; won at Indiana.
Al Horford bolstered his All-Star resume, averaging 19.6 points and 13.6 boards in three games last week.
4. Boston Celtics (23-7)
Last week: Beat Indiana; won at Orlando; lost at L.A. Clippers; lost at Golden State.
It’s hard to say Paul Pierce’s absence was the key ingredient in back-to-back losses to the Clips and Warriors. It was more a case of bad defense against two talented point guards (Baron Davis and Monta Ellis) and maybe the C’s overlooking their opponents.
3. Dallas Mavericks (22-9)
Last week: Lost to Portland; beat Memphis; won at Denver.
This Thursday, Dec. 31, in Houston. Dirk Nowitzki vs. Carl Landry’s teeth: The Rematch. How will Landry’s fake chompers hold up?
2. Los Angeles Lakers (24-6)
Last week: Beat Oklahoma City; lost to Cleveland; won at Sacramento; lost at Phoenix.
Ron Artest (concussion) proves it’s not safe to try and recreate Coming to America scenes at home.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (24-8)
Last week: Won at Sacramento; won at L.A. Lakers; beat Houston.
Four straight blowouts over some of the best teams in the West; 10 wins in a row at home; and they dominated the marquee game of the season so far, on the road in L.A. on Christmas Day.