As the League pulls into the All-Star break, we rank each team from worst to first…
30. New Jersey Nets (4-48)
MVP: Brook Lopez (18.8 ppg, 9 rpg, 1.9 bpg)
We know Louisville isn’t having the best year, and Rick Pitino has some skeletons falling out of the closet down there, but does he really want to get involved in this mess? Jersey seems like more of a job for Whoopi Goldberg.
29. Golden State Warriors (14-37)
MVP: Monta Ellis (26.2 ppg, 5.4 apg, 2.1 spg)
With their collection of D-League call-ups, guys in and out of the lineup with injuries, national college sweetheart Stephen Curry prominently involved, and perhaps the League’s most passionate fan base, the Warriors would be a feel-good story on par with the Rockets — if only they could win some games.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (13-40)
MVP: Kevin Love (14.9 ppg, 11.3 rpg)
The Wolves were 1-19 while K-Love was out with a broken hand, 10-23 since he came back.
27. Sacramento Kings (18-34)
MVP: Tyreke Evans (20.3 ppg, 5.1 apg, 1.5 spg)
Snapped a string of 13 losses in 14 games by picking up consecutive W’s against the Knicks and Pistons before the break. Next up is the Celtics, with the K-Mart/Ray Allen trade rumors subplot making it even more interesting.
26. Los Angeles Clippers (21-31)
MVP: Chris Kaman (20 ppg, 8.9 rpg)
One of two things is going to happen for Kaman in the All-Star Game: Either he’ll surprise everybody by dropping 18-20 points like Jamaal Magloire in ’04, or he’ll rack up two points as the forgotten man on the West roster. There’s no in-between.
25. Washington Wizards (17-33)
MVP: Caron Butler (16.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg)
Letting Caron’s talent and heart go to waste on this team would be like letting Young Jeezy stick around in the Boyz N Da Hood … or like banishing him to headline Da Band. You gotta let the eagle fly away.
24. Detroit Pistons (18-33)
MVP: Rodney Stuckey (17.8 ppg, 4.8 apg)
As pleasantly surprising as Jonas Jerebko and Ben Wallace have been, here’s the problem: They weren’t supposed to be starters this year. Detroit has been decimated by injuries and underachievers.
23. New York Knicks (19-32)
MVP: David Lee (20 ppg, 11.4 rpg)
Does D-Lee want to stick around, re-sign and become the Varejao/Haslem to LeBron or Wade, or go somewhere else and continue being The Man on another bad team?
22. Indiana Pacers (18-34)
MVP: Dahntay Jones (11.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
For his ability to stay healthy and bring at least a little defensive intensity to a team desperately in need, Jones has been Indiana’s rock this season. If Danny Granger can stay off the injured list, Troy Murphy can recapture his ’08-09 form, and Roy Hibbert can consistently deliver on his potential down the stretch, one of them will be in the running.
21. Milwaukee Bucks (24-27)
MVP: Andrew Bogut (16 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg)
Brandon Jennings has brought excitement back to Milwaukee, but Bogut is the guy holding it down on a consistent basis. The team is better than anybody expected, which is really all you can ask for given the personnel.
20. Philadelphia 76ers (20-32)
MVP: Andre Iguodala (17.1 ppg, 7 rpg, 5.7 apg, 1.9 spg)
Five wins in their last six isn’t enough to mask that the Sixers long-term future looks bleak. Hence Iguodala still being involved in trade rumors for short-term rentals like T-Mac and Amar’e.
19. Chicago Bulls (25-26)
MVP: Derrick Rose (19.6 ppg, 5.7 apg)
A couple weeks ago on NBA TV, one of the studio guys said Vinny Del Negro went from almost getting fired to “on top of the basketball world” since the Bulls got back to .500 and won some games. We wouldn’t go that far, but Vinny is probably safe for the rest of the season.
18. Miami Heat (26-27)
MVP: Dwyane Wade (26.5 ppg, 6.5 apg, 1.8 spg)
Just when things were getting real bad, Miami rolled off blowout wins over the Rockets and Hawks to go into the break on a good note. Hopefully D-Wade gets some rest this weekend, because he’s got a big load to carry when he goes back to work.
17. Charlotte Bobcats (26-25)
MVP: Stephen Jackson (21.8 ppg, 5 rpg, 1.8 spg)
One more monster game from Nazr Mohammed and the League is going to send the man with the little plastic cup down to Charlotte.
16. Memphis Grizzlies (26-25)
MVP: Zach Randolph (20.5 ppg, 11.6 rpg)
All of a sudden, it’s not so guaranteed that Rudy Gay will bolt Memphis as soon as he gets the chance. He’s got to like what they’re building with him as a centerpiece. Then again, will the Grizzlies be able to afford him?
15. New Orleans Hornets (28-25)
MVP: Chris Paul (20.4 ppg, 11.2 apg, 2.2 spg) and Darren Collison (8.5 ppg, 3.9 apg)
The rookie Collison deserves credit for holding things together when CP has been out with various injuries, averaging 16.9 points and 7.9 dimes in the 15 games he’s started. Crazy concept by those Hornets: Drafting a four-year college guy who played in multiple Final Fours and proved himself on a high level.
14. Houston Rockets (27-24)
MVP: Aaron Brooks (19.4 ppg, 4.9 apg)
You could have gone a lot of ways for the most balanced team in the League — Scola, Landry, Battier, maybe even Ariza if he was shooting better — but the object of the game is to ultimately get more buckets than the other team, and Brooks has been Houston’s go-to scorer.
13. Portland Trail Blazers (31-24)
MVP: Andre Miller (13.5 ppg, 5.3 apg)
At the beginning of the year, ‘Dre was looking like a good candidate to be traded before the deadline. Now he’s often the best player on the court in Portland and one of the only guys who can stay upright. Then again, when you only get three inches off the ground, you can’t land on anybody’s foot and roll your ankle.
12. Toronto Raptors (29-23)
MVP: Chris Bosh (24.4 ppg, 11.4 rpg)
With eights wins in their last nine games, few teams are hotter than Toronto right now. Itching for a near-death experience? Bring up a Chris Bosh trade rumor to a Raps fan, and justify it by saying Bosh is gonna leave in free agency anyway so they might as well get something. Then duck.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (30-21)
MVP: Kevin Durant (29.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
This should be happening in Seattle … This should be happening in Seattle … This should be happening in Seattle …
10. Dallas Mavericks (32-20)
MVP: Dirk Nowitzki (24.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg)
Call it a lifetime achievement nod, call it a hometown favor, call it a reputation pick … Whatever. Jason Kidd helps the All-Star Game more than he hurts it, and he is fifth in the League in assists (9.3 apg) and eighth in steals (1.8 spg) for a division-leading team.
9. Phoenix Suns (31-22)
MVP: Steve Nash (18.3 ppg, 11.1 apg)
So much has been made about whather Amar’e can thrive without Nash. Here’s a question: At this point in his career, how good would Nash be without somebody like Amar’e to finish what he starts? We’re not knocking Nash, just asking the question.
8. San Antonio Spurs (30-21)
MVP: Tim Duncan (19.4 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 1.7 bpg)
TD narrowly edged out Richard Jefferson in the office vote.
7. Boston Celtics (32-18)
MVP: Rajon Rondo (14.3 ppg, 9.7 apg, 2.4 spg)
Stumbled into the break losing five of their last eight. When Boston is at the top of their game, they’re as good as anyone in the League. But are the injuries, age and inconsistent bench just too much to overcome?
6. Utah Jazz (31-20)
MVP: Deron Williams (18.6 ppg, 9.8 apg)
They’d won nine in a row before dropping one to the Kobe-less Lakers at home. Apparently L.A. just has this team’s number. Avoiding the defending champs until the conference finals would be ideal.
5. Atlanta Hawks (33-18)
MVP: Jamal Crawford (17.8 ppg)
In crunch time, ATL’s offense goes through Crawford and Joe Johnson. Half the time, Crawford is the guy defenses are most worried about.
4. Orlando Magic (36-18)
MVP: Dwight Howard (18 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 2.7 bpg)
We thought Vince Carter’s 48-point blowup on the Hornets was the beginning of a hot streak. Looks like it was more of a one-time reminder that he’s not retired yet.
3. Denver Nuggets (35-18)
MVP: Chauncey Billups (19.5 ppg, 6.2 apg)
The best home-court team in the NBA this side of Cleveland and the Lakers, but sub-.500 on the road.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (41-13)
MVP: Kobe Bryant (28 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.6 spg)
Finally forced to admit he’s not Iron Man, Kobe sat out the last three games going into the break — and his teammates manages to knock off three playoff teams in his absence. If nothing else, at least Kobe knows he doesn’t have to kill himself trying to play hurt.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (43-11)
MVP: LeBron James (29.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 8.3 apg, 1.6 spg)
The win streak is at 13 and counting, as the Cavs are getting up for the big games but also staying focused enough to avoid the traps. However, we saw this kind of regular-season dominance last year; it won’t mean anything until LeBron’s squad can live up to expectations and are playing for a ‘chip.