1. San Antonio Spurs, 49-10. Led by All Stars Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, the Spurs continue to shock the NBA with the best record in the league. 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. Tony Parker will be out two-four weeks with a strained calf, but I don’t expect the Spurs to miss too much of a beat.
2. Boston Celtics, 43-15. 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 recent 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.
3. Los Angeles Lakers 42-19. 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 seem to be more focused, winning all four of their games since.
4. Miami Heat 43-17. After a 9-8 start, the Heat, led by All Stars Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade, have rebounded to go 34-9 over their last 43 games. They have lost three to the Boston Celtics, and two to the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks, so there is still doubt about the ability of the Heat to beat the best. The possible acquisition of Mike Bibby and Troy Murphy may put them over the top.
5. Dallas Mavericks, 43-16. 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 have Mavericks fans thinking championship run. The season-ending injury of Caron Butler really hurts the Mavericks, but they are still poised to make a championship run.
6. Chicago Bulls, 41-17. All Star guard and NBA MVP candidate Derrick Rose leads a Bulls team that, until now, hasn’t had their starting lineup together. With Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah both healthy, look for the Bulls to finish the season strong and push both the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
7. Orlando Magic 38-22. 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 ( https://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.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder, 36-22. 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 acquistion 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.
9. Atlanta Hawks 36-24. 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 acquistion of guard Kirk Hinrich from the Wizards for Mike Bibby may improve the team in the long run.
10. New York Knicks 30-27. The new-look Knicks have played three games since their huge trade that landed Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, and are 2-1 since the trade, inlcuding a huge victory over the Miami Heat Sunday. (https://razzandjazzsports.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/knicks-cool-heat/ ) Back-to-back games against the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Hornets should let Knicks fans and NBA fans alike know how dangerous a team the Knicks can be come playoffs.