Can you picture a San Antonio vs. Miami finals? It’s not that hard, if you try.
1. Spurs (40-14, last week ranked number 2). Eleven wins in a row and they are percentage points ahead of the Thunder (and one ahead of them in the loss column). Are they title contenders? They have four rings with this core, have the best coach in the league and are a matchup problem for the Thunder. I still wonder about them against the big front lines of the Lakers or Grizzlies, but with a healthy Manu Ginobili it’s close. The Spurs need everything to go perfectly, but that’s what we said about the Mavericks last year.
2. Heat (40-15, LW 4). They redeemed themselves with a quality win against the Thunder, then right after came out and laid an egg against Memphis. As he has all season, LeBron keeps putting up big numbers when Dwyane Wade sits. Big tests this week with the Celtics, Bulls and Knicks on the docket.
3. Bulls (43-14, LW 3). They got Derrick Rose back with a few weeks to work off the rust before the playoffs start. Perfect. Their only question is who they want to see in the first round more: Sixers, Bucks or Knicks?
4. Thunder (40-15, LW 1). Tough week of games last week and the Thunder drop three straight. Sometimes they still look like a young team learning how to win.
5. Celtics (32-24, LW 7). The Celtics defense has been stifling, and they are getting enough offense to get the wins. A player of Ray Allen’s stature coming off the bench would be a problem in some locker rooms, but not this one.
6. Grizzlies (32-23, LW 10). This is the team nobody in the West wants to face in the first round — and they are still not fully hitting their stride (Zach Randolph could play better). Huge showdown with the Spurs Thursday, that will be fun.
7. Lakers (35-22, LW 5). They won the game they needed to win against the Clippers, but if Kobe Bryant is in a walking boot too long they might give those gains back. That said, no doubt some rest for Kobe is a good idea at this point, whether it’s forced by an injury or not.
8. Clippers (34-22 LW 6). If the playoffs started today, they would get Memphis in the first round. Blake Griffin vs. the Memphis front line — that would be fun to watch. Griffin is creating some bad blood wherever he goes (which made that game against the Lakers fun).
9. Pacers (34-22, LW 12). Nice wins against the Thunder and Hawks last week… then they get smoked by Boston. In the wins their offense seems to be clicking, they are going to need that if they have plans of advancing in the playoffs.
10. Hawks (34-23, LW 11). They continue to beat the teams they should, we’ll see how they do with Boston and Orlando on the docket this week.
11. Knicks (29-27, LW 13). They keep finding ways to win for Mike Woodson — Tyson Chandler keeping balls alive and tipping them out to Carmelo Anthony for key threes. But they remain just a game ahead of the nine seed Bucks — big showdown Wednesday with Milwaukee.
12. Mavericks (31-26, LW 8). Lamar Odom is gone and that’s the smart move by the organization, but he was not the root of all they offensive and defensive problems. This is not the title contender they were last year, a deal Cuban made before the season to get cap space.
13. Rockets (31-25, LW 16). If the playoffs started today the Rockets would face the Lakers — and Los Angeles has a recent history of struggling to contain quick point guards. Like Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic. Plus Courtney Lee is balling of late.
14. Magic (33-23, LW 9). Combine the public “Dwightmare” with Dwight Howard’s ongoing back issues (he is out Monday night) and this has become the team everybody in the East wants to see in the first round of the playoffs. Didn’t think that would be the case back in early February.
15. Suns (29-27, LW 18). Michael Redd, who everyone had pretty much written off, is back and contributing. If the Suns’
warlocks, er, training staff can keep Steve Nash’s back healthy they may just make the playoffs.
16. Nuggets (30-26, LW 15). If they are going to hold on to their playoff spot the five-game stretch starting Friday will determine it — Lakers, home-and-home with the Rockets, Clippers, then Suns.
17. Jazz (29-27, LW 17). They are barely holding on to their playoff hopes, and they have the Spurs, Rockets and Grizzlies this week. They need some big wins to keep those playoff hopes alive.
18. 76ers (29-27, LW 14). Is anybody falling faster and harder than these guys? Early in the season they were the model of team play and defense, now they are close to falling out of the playoffs. A soft schedule this week could be a boost.
19. Bucks (28-28, LW 19). This week will tell the tale with Milwaukee — they have a Wednesday showdown with the Knicks, although they are more likely to catch plummeting Philly or Orlando.
20. Blazers (27-30, LW 21). Got a fantastic home win over Dallas last week — this is the kind of team that can rise up and beat anybody. They can be your spoiler.
21. Timberwolves (25-32, LW 20). Michael Beasley is back. That should fix everything. (To be fair, he was good in his one game back. Still.)
22. Pistons (21-35, LW 22). With Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe you’d like to think they have a base to build on for the future, but this is a roster that still needs a lot of work to move forward.
23. Warriors (22-33, LW 25). They are 4-12 since the trade of Monta Ellis, but remember they only get to keep their lottery pick if it is one of the top three.
24. Raptors (20-36, LW 26). Andrea Bargnani was back… and then out again with the same calf the second half of last game. With him they have a decent offense and you can see glimmers of hope. Without him, it’s the DeMar DeRozan show.
25. Nets (20-37, LW 23). They have had some nice little wins of late, and in the East where teams need wins this is not a pushover — Deron Williams can change any game.
26. Kings (19-37, LW 24). As bad as things have been on the court, if this city loses the team at the Board of Governors this week it will be a true disaster. Can the other owners really reward the Maloofs for their behavior in this stadium situation?
27. Hornets (15-41, LW 28). Eric Gordon is back, Jarrett Jack is out. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
28. Cavaliers (18-35, LW 27). With Kyrie Irving out this team may have a top 4 pick in the draft to pair with their young point guard next season. But don’t say they are tanking.
29. Wizards (12-44, LW 29). This team wasn’t good with Nene in the lineup, they are painful without him.
30. Bobcats (7-47, LW 30). If they get one more win before the season ends they will avoid having the worst winning percentage in the history of the league. That’s quite a lofty goal but one they can reach.