It looks like the Miami Heat have started to get focused and in the West it is the Spurs, Thunder and everyone else. The rest of the league has less than two months to state their case that they can knock one of those big three off.
1. Heat (40-14, last week ranked No. 2). Winners of 11 in a row including beating the Bulls and Thunder easily on the road. Might be time for the rest of the league to worry. In their last 10 games the Heat are scoring 116.9 points per 100 possessions and allowing just 98.9 — best offense in the NBA and fifth best defense in that stretch. And can we stop with the Dwyane Wade is done crap?
2. Spurs (44-13, LW 3). They went 7-2 on the Rodeo road trip. Impressive. A scout told me recently he thinks the Spurs are better suited to defeat the Heat in the finals than the Thunder. Problem is they will have a hard time getting past the Thunder. Tony Parker deserves to be in the MVP conversation — third in that conversation, but in it.
3. Thunder (41-15, LW 1). They are 2-3 in last five and their defense has been up and down — the Thunder allowed James Harden to score 45 on them but Sunday night held the Bulls to 29.1 percent shooting. We’ll see if that gets consistent with games at Denver and at the Clippers this week.
4. Pacers (35-21, LW 7). They have won four in a row (by more than 27 points on average), 8-of-10 and they got Danny Granger back this week (even if he struggled in his debut). They have the size and defense to be the team that challenges the Heat out of the East, but they need Roy Hibbert to be his old self.
5. Clippers (40-18 LW 5). After getting undressed by the Heat and Spurs in recent weeks, the question becomes “are the Clippers really contenders?” As always the question is defense and DeAndre Jordan, and both were wanting against the elite.
6. Grizzlies (37-18, LW 9). Rudy Gay who? They have won seven in a row and their offense is scoring 108.4 points a game in their last 10 (before Sunday night). Tayshaun Prince is averaging 9.2 points a game in that stretch and making some good defensive plays. Big test vs. Heat on Friday.
7. Nuggets (35-22, LW 4). Their record has flattened out as the home-heavy portion of the schedule went away and they have won just two of their last five. They need to knock down threes and space the floor better against the Lakers and Thunder this week to pick up wins.
8. Knicks (33-20, LW 6). They had lost four in a row before getting healthy against a Sixers team on a downward spiral Sunday. New York needs to find it’s defensive groove again in the next six weeks or these playoffs are going to look a lot like the last several.
9. Rockets (31-27, LW 12). They are 6-4 in their last 10 with wins over the Thunder and Nets — the Rockets are not giving away that last playoff spot. The Lakers are playing better but they are going to have to catch the Rockets or Jazz, neither team is falling far back to them.
10. Bulls (32-23, LW 8). The most points they have scored in their last three games is 72 points. It’s a credit to Derrick Rose and the organization that nobody is panicking and forcing him to return to the court before he is ready. They need to look at the big picture. But Reggie Rose wasn’t wrong in saying they could have used another scorer at the trade deadline.
11. Nets (33-24, LW 11). It wasn’t for lack of effort by Billy King at the trade deadline, but nobody is taking the HBAP offer (Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks and a pick). This team is what it is headed to playoffs, and that could be one-and-done.
12. Jazz (31-25, LW 14). They said they didn’t get an offer they liked at the deadline for Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap. Now they will lose at least one this summer for nothing. But with both big men in house they have a chance to make the playoffs despite a tougher schedule than the Rockets or Lakers the rest of the way.
13. Warriors (32-23, LW 13). It’s got to be the sleeves! The Warriors had dropped six in a row until they put on the sleeves and beat the Spurs. They are too far ahead to fall back to the Lakers now, but without Andrew Bogut they need to start finding a playoff groove.
14. Lakers (28-29, LW 18). Won 8-of-11 and are playing with an identity, which is letting them win games they lost earlier in the season. The only question now is can they sustain a pace that helps them catch the Jazz or Rockets — they have to catch them neither is coming that far back.
15. Hawks (31-23, LW 15). Josh Smith surprisingly remains a Hawk at the deadline, so the Al Horford and Smith front line is going to make one more run at it in the playoffs. Not a very long run, but a run.
16. Celtics (29-27, LW 10). They are 1-3 on a tough post All-Star Game with a West Coast Road trip, with the lone win coming against what’s left in Phoenix. The trip ends Monday with the brutal Utah Jazz at altitude on the second night of a back-to-back.
17. Bucks (26-28, LW 16). They have dropped 9 of their last 11 and while J.J. Redick is an upgrade at the guard spot he’s not a game changer. Having a guy who likes to work off the ball paired with Brandon Jennings and/or Monta Ellis is not exactly going to solve a lot of problems. And he’s a free agent this summer.
18. Mavericks (25-30, LW 19). That was pretty much a must-win game Sunday in terms of the Mavericks making the playoffs, so thanks a lot Mark Cuban for adding the fuel to Kobe fire for that game. My next question is will they go after Josh Smith this summer, and if yes at what price?
19. Cavaliers (18-37, LW 21). They had won two in a row before giving the Heat plenty of fight on Sunday. Talking with Cavaliers players at All-Star weekend it is clear they are an optimistic group about the future.
20. Raptors (23-33, LW 24). They are four games out of a playoff spot in the West. They would need an implosion by the Bucks (not likely) or the Celtics (less likely) to get in. Which makes their game at Milwaukee this wee huge for them, a must win to have any chance.
21. 76ers (22-32, LW 20). They have lost five in a row and any playoff dreams have gone up in a puff of smoke. The only question now is how many games does Andrew Bynum play and can you make any real reads about the team going forward with him in that time?
22. Pistons (22-36, LW 22). Rough week with the Pistons blowing a lead to the Grizzlies then facing the Pacers twice. That doesn’t mean you can haul off and punch Tyler Hansbrough. You listening Will Bynum?
23. Wizards (17-37, LW 23). Their five-man starting unit — John Wall, Bradley Beal, Martell Webster, Emeka Okafor and Nene — are playing well together. They want to keep Webster as a free agent this summer but he could get too expensive for their blood.
24. Trail Blazers (25-30, LW 17). Lost seven in a row (before Wesley Mathews got them a win over the Celtics Sunday) and with the Lakers and Mavericks surging it’s hard to see this team coming back and make the playoffs.
25. Timberwolves (20-32, LW 27). Ricky Rubio is starting to look more and more like his old self and now Kevin Love says he should be back the second half of March. So for 15 games or so we may get to see the playoff team we thought we’d get all season. Damn injuries.
27. Kings (19-38, LW 26). They have lost five in a row and with all anybody can talk about being off-the-court, team sale issues it’s hard to see where this team is going to find focus and start playing well.
28. Suns (18-39, LW 28). Expect there to be a house cleaning in the front office this summer in Phoenix. Lon Babby is likely out as GM (you sign then anoint Michael Beasley despite the red flags, you get what’s coming to you) and with him Lindsey Hunter will be out.
29. Bobcats (13-43, LW 30). The Bobcats are 6-21 on the road and they will be on the road all this week. They are well on their way to having the most Ping-Pong balls in the lottery for a second straight year. The only team that could catch them….
30. Magic (15-41, LW 29). Orlando got a win at the trade deadline — they were going to lose J.J. Redick so they got some nice prospects in Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb. That will not help the win on the court this season, however.