1) Miami Heat [ 12-3 ]: Saturdays 102-89 victory over the Brooklyn Nets was just the Heats fourth game over a 16-day stretch. With Dwayne Wade struggling to find his rhythm offensively thus far, that extra rest could be beneficial moving into the winter months.
2) Oklahoma City Thunder [ 14-4 ]: Nothing is more gratifying than crushing a team you made a major trade with involving one of your former players who helped take you to an NBA Finals appearance. A 120-98 victory over James Harden and the Rockets on Wednesday certainly falls under that category.
3) Memphis Grizzlies [ 12-3 ]: November was a very kind month to the Grizzlies, garnering wins over the Knicks, Heat, Lakers and Thunder. December eases up as Memphis plays just one team currently with a winning record (Hawks) over the next two weeks, including two games against the leagues worst defense (Suns).
4) New York Knicks [ 12-4 ]: New York remains just one of three teams in the league (Heat, Jazz) who are undefeated on their home court. Jason Kidd is still missing time with a lower back spasms. To see just how effective Kidd has been for this Knicks team thus far, click here.
5) San Antonio Spurs [ 14 -4 ]: David Stern deemed it worthy to fine the Spurs $250,000 for sending home four key players (Duncan, Green, Parker, Ginobili) before last Thursdays game against the Heat. As a testament to how deep this roster really is, they almost shocked the world by nearly defeating the defending champions with a bunch of players you’ve never heard of. Kudos to you, Popovich.
6) Brooklyn Nets [ 11-5 ]: Two losses by a combined 43 points to the Miami Heat show that the Nets still aren’t ready to compete with the champions of the East just yet. For Brooklyn’s sake, Brook Lopez‘s ligament injury in his right foot hopefully doesn’t evolve into something far more serious down the road, especially considering his history of being hurt (played just five games all of last season).
7) Atlanta Hawks [ 9-5 ]: The six-game winning streak was certainly welcome, but the competition wasn’t exactly on their level (Bobcats twice, Kings, Magic, Wizards, struggling Clippers) to say the least. Losing to the Cavaliers brought them down a peg. Their team offense (19th) will eventually have to catch up with their outstanding defense (6th).
8) Golden State Warriors [ 10-6 ]: Andrew Bogut is nowhere to be seen, yet the Warriors have still won three in a row and seven of their last ten. With four of the teams next six games being against some of the leagues weakest rosters (Wizards, Bobcats, Pistons, Magic), Golden States winning ways could be far from over.
9) Philadelphia 76ers [ 10-7 ]: The Sixers are averaging just 18.9 free throws a game. No team in league history has averaged fewer than 18 for an entire season. That number can easily be explained by the teams lack of a low post presence drawing fouls in the paint. If only they had someone who could do that. Here’s looking at you, Mr. Andrew Bynum.
10) Los Angeles Clippers [ 10-6 ]: Eric Bledsoe has easily been the surprise of the season for Los Angeles. Through 16 games, Eric is averaging 9.9 points on 50% shooting (up from 3.3 and 38% last season), as well as 2.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists a game. He’s earned his playing time, even with the return of guard Chauncey Billups to the starting unit.
11) Boston Celtics [ 9-8 ]: It was a shame to see Rajon Rondo‘s assist streak end in such a brutal fashion, but at the very least, it helped shed the Celtics label of playing “soft”, which is something coach Doc Rivers believes his team has been to start the year, especially during the Nets game.
12) Chicago Bulls [ 8-7 ]: I’m surprised Luol Deng hasn’t passed out from exhaustion yet, as he currently leads the NBA in minutes played at 40.7 minutes a game. That playing time could eventually catch up to Deng, as he has a history of dealing with nagging injuries. I suppose with Derrick Rose out and the “Bench Mob 2.0″ not playing up to par, coach Thibodeau doesn’t have a lot to work with.
13) Milwaukee Bucks [ 8-7 ]: Last Monday’s comeback win over the Chicago Bulls (down 27 points late in the third quarter) was a statement victory in the Central division. Ersan Ilyasova remains one of the more baffling disappointments of any team thus far, averaging just 7.3 points (down from 13.0 last season) on 35% shooting.
14) Los Angeles Lakers [ 8-9 ]: Losing to the Orlando Magic (a game former Magic player Dwight Howard certainly wanted to win) on Sunday night was a new low for the Lakers. Allowing 40 points in the fourth quarter to the fourth-worst ranked offense (92.5) in the NBA is unacceptable. Steve Nash will be returning soon, but how much of a difference will he really make?
15) Indiana Pacers [ 8-9 ]: 12 of the Pacers first 18 games are on the road, so taking that into consideration, and the fact that Danny Granger has been out with an injury, a 8-9 record could be a lot worse. Paul George went 0-7 from the field and finished with 0 points in 29 minutes during Saturdays loss to the Warriors. That won’t suffice.
16) Utah Jazz [ 9-9 ]: Five of Utah’s next seven games are at home, which is a huge plus considering the team has yet to lose at the Energy Solutions arena all season. Moving Gordon Hayward to the bench has worked wonders, as he’s put up 13, 15 and 23 in his last three games as a part of the Jazz second unit.
17) Houston Rockets [ 8-8 ]: Our thoughts and prayers go out to Rockets coach Kevin McHale, who recently lost his daughter Sasha after a long-suffering battle with the autoimmune disease Lupus. I’m sure the team would love nothing more than to have their head coach back on the sidelines, but his return is still very much up in the air at this point and time.
18) Dallas Mavericks [ 8-9 ]: Acquiring Derrick Fisher was a huge sign that coach Carlisle has little faith in his younger guards (Collison, Beaubois, Jones) to run the point effectively. Ultimately, all this team needs to do is hold down the fort and not slip to far under .500 before Dirk Nowitzki makes his triumphant return, which should be somewhere around Christmas.
19) Denver Nuggets [ 8-9 ]: Denver is still hovering around the .500 mark, which is disappointing considering the teams high hopes entering the season. Games against Toronto later tonight and the Pacers on Friday could breath some life into this Nuggets squad.
20) Minnesota Timberwolves [ 7-8 ]: Ricky Rubio’s return is drawing closer and closer. Once the spaniard fully recovers, THEN we will fully understand where this Wolves teams playoff hopes lie. With a healthy roster, this team is just far too talented to remain in the basement of the Western Conference. I think.
21) Orlando Magic [ 6-10 ]: It’s not an NBA championship, but to Magic fans, it’s awfully close. Walking into the Staples Center and knocking off Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers last night is as sweet as sweet can get.
22) Charlotte Bobcats [ 7-8 ]: Sure, the Bobcats have lost three in a row, but you know what? They have seven victories, which matches their total from all of last season. So shut up, will you? Remember when they were over .500? I do too, but it might be a while before those good times roll on in once more.
23) Portland Trail Blazers [ 7-10 ]: Luke Babbit, Nolan Smith, Meyers Leonard, Will Barton and Joel Freeland. I still can’t get over how awful this second-unit is. Until further pieces are acquired to help bolster the bench, Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Alridge and the rest of that starting-five are going to have to continue playing 40+ minutes a night.
25) Phoenix Suns [7-11 ]: The Suns lost by 40 to the Detroit Pistons (117-77) this past Wednesday. Yes, you read that correctly. The leagues worst defense is allowing 102.7 points a game.
26) New Orleans Hornets [ 4-11 ]: The Hornets have to be extra cautious with the ankles of Anthony Davis. Rushing him back would be the worst decision possible. Davis is already making comparisons to Grant Hill, which must be giving coach Monty Williams a heart attack.
27) Toronto Raptors [ 4-13 ]: Andrea Bargnani actually made a defensive stand down the stretch and grabbed a key rebound in Friday’s win over the Phoenix Suns. I never thought I’d use the words “Bargnani”, “defensive stand” and “rebound” in the same sentence. He’s still been extremely inconsistent this season, even with his injured ankle (which I don’t believe is as serious as its being let on).
28) Sacramento Kings [ 4-12 ]: How does “the Seattle Kings” sound? I suppose they would revert back to the Supersonics, but regardless, the current Kings are on life support in Sacramento. If they keep stinking up the Power Balance pavilion like they are now, they might get the boot even sooner.
29) Cleveland Cavaliers [ 4-13 ]: Anderson Varejao. Until Kyrie Irving returns, that’s all Cleveland fans really have to smile about at the moment. Dion Waiters is trying to make the most of his newfound role as the go-to-guy on offense in Irvings absence, but he is clearly not ready for such a task, at least for now.
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