1. San Antonio Spurs, 57-17. The Spurs have lost four in a row, and their once strong hold on the best record in the NBA is up for grabs, as the Lose Angeles Lakers and the Chicago Bulls close in. Tim Duncan injured his ankle on Monday, March 21, 2011, and he has yet to play, a key to the current four-game losing streak. A faster-paced offense that uses a deep rotation is the biggest factor in their success. Their championship pedigree makes them a serious threat to win it all. Duncan’s health will be key to the Spurs making a deep playoff run.
2. Los Angeles Lakers 53-20. The Lakers, led by All Stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, are striving toward their third-straight NBA championship, and the Lakers are sometimes unfocused, as Bryant said earlier this season when I asked if it was difficult for the veteran team designed to win a championship to get motivated for regular season games. With the post-All Star break schedule here, the Lakers are more focused, winning 15 of 16 since. That one loss came against the Miami Heat, who seem to cause match up problems for the Lakers. When the Lakers are playing their best, they are impossible to beat.
3. Boston Celtics, 51-22. Led by All Stars Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo, the Celtics are poised to make another championship run after losing in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers in 7 games in 2010. The trade of Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson for Jeff Greene and Nenad Kristic has many Celtics fans worried about size in the playoffs, but it says here Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal will fill that gap, and, as Celtics head coach Doc Rivers stated, they now have the ability to play small and spread the floor for the first time since 2008, a strength they will utilize. The Celtics have lost three of four to the Memphis Grizzlies0, Charotte Bobcats, and Indiana Pacers, reason for Celtics fans to be worried.
4. Miami Heat, 51-22. After a 9-8 start, the Heat, led by All Stars Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade, have rebounded to go 42-14 over their last 56 games. They have lost three to the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls, and two to the Dallas Mavericks, so there is still doubt about the ability of the Heat to beat the best. The acquisition of Mike Bibby may put them over the top. The Heat have won five straight and eight of nine, including a game when the Big Three all went for 30 or more. That is what makes this team so dangerous in the playoffs.
5. Chicago Bulls, 53-20. All Star guard and NBA MVP candidate Derrick Rose leads a Bulls team that hasn’t had their starting lineup together for long. The Bulls have won 12 of 14, and now have the best record in the Eastern Conference. They have a shot at the best record in the NBA due to recent struggles by the San Antonio Spurs. Look for the Bulls to finish the season strong and finish the Eastern Conference with the best record.
6. Dallas Mavericks, 52-21 All Star forward Dirk Nowitzki leads the Mavericks, but it is the addition of center Tyson Chandler that appears to have given them a defensive edge, one that has Mavericks fans thinking about a championship run. The season-ending injury of Caron Butler really hurts the Mavericks, but they are still poised to make a championship run. The Mavericks trail the Los Angeles Lakers despite a four-game losing streak, as the Lakers have lost all but one after the all-star break.
7. Orlando Magic 47-27. All Star Dwight Howard leads a team of talented players that haven’t seemed to gel as of yet since the big trades that took place in mid-December ( http://razzandjazzsports.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/dwight-magic-talk-trade/ ) but with the likes of Hedo Turkoglu back, along with guard Jason Richardson, and Gilbert Arenas, the Magic definitely have the talent to match up with any team in the league. Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, and Quentin Richardson all missed last night’s game against the New York Knicks, and injuries could be a problem for the Magic heading into the playoffs.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder, 48-24. All Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook lead a Thunder team that is poised to take their next step in the playoffs, after intensely battling the Lakers in the first round last season. The recent acquisition of Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson for Jeff Greene and Nenad Kristic shows that the Thunder are prepared with size to battle the best in the Western Conference. The Thunder have won 9 of 10, but may be locked into the fourth seed in the Western Conference, barring a prolonged losing streak by the Mavericks.
9. Denver Nuggets 44-29. The Denver Nuggets are 12-4 since trading Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks, and have had seven different players lead them in scoring, including new additions Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari. Four of their last nine are against playoff teams, including two against the Oklahoma City Thunder. We will soon see if Denver is for real, and have the ability to make a deep playoff run.
10. Atlanta Hawks 42-32. All Stars Joe Johnson and Al Horford lead a Hawks team that is trying to improve upon their second-round playoff exit last season after being swept by the Orlando Magic. The acquisition of guard Kirk Hinrich from the Wizards for Mike Bibby may improve the team in the long run. The Hawks are a puzzling team, losing bad games at home, like 114-81 to the Chicago Bull at home, but still have the talent to scare a team in the playoffs.