Ja Morant and the Grizzlies are the hottest team in the NBA, winners of 10 straight, a streak that includes beating the No. 2 and 3 teams on this list — the Suns and Warriors — so Ja Morant jumps them up to the top spot.
1. Grizzlies (29-14, Last Week No. 6). Ja Morant is getting a lot of love and most of the highlights — that two-handed block on Avery Bradley was the block of the season — but the Grizzlies keep on winning because they are getting quality contributions beyond Morant and Desmond Bane. For example, the defensive contributions of wing John Conchar have been impressive — he guarded Chris Paul against the Suns. Against the Warriors on Tuesday, Morant made his All-Star starter case by outdueling Curry. The Grizzlies have won 10 straight and are the hottest team in the league, but have some tests this week, such as Luka Doncic and the Mavs Friday and the Bulls come to town Monday.
🤯 JA SNATCHED IT OUT THE AIR WITH TWO HANDS! 🤯
— NBA (@NBA) January 10, 2022
2. Suns (31-9, LW 3). Phoenix will have two players in the All-Star Game — Chris Paul and Devin Booker — but the real question is will CP3 get the other starting spot next to Stephen Curry, or will that go to Ja Morant (or someone else)? Paul did have one of the best moments of the week when he stepped up to defend hardship signee Emanuel Terry from heckling Boston fans — those hardship players are one of the great stories of the season (and saved the league from shutting down). After a bit of a hiccup, Phoenix has won 4-of-5, including a win in Toronto — where Booker and The Raptor did not get along — which began a five-game road trip.
3. Warriors (30-10, LW 1). Golden State has dropped 3-of-4 and the last loss, to the Grizzlies, how valuable Draymond Green is to the team (he has been sidelined with a calf issue). In the Christmas Day win over the Suns, Green drew the early Chris Paul assignment, but without Green the Warriors struggled to slow Ja Morant (who is more a more dynamic athlete than CP3). Green is likely out against the Bucks and Bulls on the road this weekend. Klay Thompson is back, and while it hasn’t exactly looked like he never left, he has looked pretty good in two games (15.5 points a game and 38.5% from 3).
The dunk. The reaction. UNBELIEVABLE! pic.twitter.com/T3DEXYB3nL
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) January 10, 2022
4. Jazz (28-13, LW 2). COVID hit the Jazz later than most teams, but it has sidelined Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles, and with that the Jazz have dropped three straight. The losses without him show why not only why he should be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, but get mentions in the MVP race as well. Hassan Whiteside has thrived this season in the role of Gobert’s backup, but thrust into a starting role it hasn’t gone as well. By the way, Utah is active on the trade market looking for defensive help on the perimeter.
5. Bulls (27-11, LW 4). The Bulls are good — they sit on top of the Eastern Conference — but there are doubts they are a threat to the very best in the NBA. Chicago has a lot to prove still to doubters come the postseason. Normally we could have called this coming week — games against the Nets Wednesday and the Warriors Friday — a good measuring stick but with so many players out of the lineup (Draymond Green is doubtful for the Warriors game) it’s going to be hard to judge on that level. DeMar DeRozan will likely be an All-Star starter in the West — at guard, even though he has technically only played forward for the Bulls this season.
6. 76ers (23-16, LW 7). The 76ers go as Joel Embiid goes — he has scored 30+ points in seven straight games, the team has won seven in a row. It’s not a coincidence and it has Philadelphia climbing the standings, but it’s impossible to say how good this team will look in the playoffs until we see how the Ben Simmons situation resolves itself. Trade talk around Simmons is heating up, but don’t believe the Sixers are trading Simmons and Tobias Harris together (as rumored) unless some other team is shopping a true superstar player.
7. Heat (25-15, LW 9). The Omicron wave that hit the NBA has shown which teams had a strong culture, a strong identity, and had developed their end-of-bench players. No team has looked better than Miami, which has won 7-of-9 and on Saturday crushed the Suns despite both Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler being out injured. Omer Yurkseven is the perfect example of this, the Turkish center has had double-digit rebounds in 11 straight games and has had a few strong offensive outings as well. Through it all, the Heat just keep finding ways to win.
8. Bucks (26-17, LW 5). Milwaukee has won just one game in its last five, although that was a blowout of the Nets where you could tell some Bucks wanted to make a statement. The Bucks’ key players — Jrue Holiday, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton — missed time during this rough patch. At the midway point of the season, Antetokounmpo is in the thick of — if not on top of — the MVP race, averaging n efficient 28.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 5.9 assists a game while playing the best defense of any of the candidates.
9. Nets (25-14, LW 8). Kyrie Irving may be scoring 22 points a game since his return, but he has not found his form yet. He is shooting just 30% from 3, his assist percentage is down from last season but his turnovers are up. The entire Nets team has hit a rough patch, they lost five in a row at home before an overtime win against the Spurs. In their last seven games, the Nets have a -4.3 net rating. Irving will get his chance to give the team a jump start and establish himself starting Monday in Cleveland, which begins a stretch of 10-of-13 on the road for the Nets.
10. Mavericks (22-18, LW 11). Dallas has won six in a row, and while the offense has been solid in that stretch it’s been the defense giving up less than a point per possession that has really fueled the streak — and that streak includes wins over the Warriors and Bulls. It will be interesting to see where Luka Doncic lands in the All-Star voting, the fans voted him a starter, but just ahead of the red-hot Ja Morant. Factor in the media and player votes, and it’s likely Doncic slides out of the starting two in the West, but will the coaches still put him on the team as a reserve? He’s a bit of a bubble guy this year.
11. Cavaliers (23-18, LW 10). Cleveland is 3-4 with a -2.9 net rating since Ricky Rubio went out for the season, and that is not a coincidence. Rajon Rondo has looked solid — and much better than he did in Los Angeles — since coming over in the trade. It’s just three games, but he’s averaging 10.3 points and 4.7 assists a game in almost 22 minutes a night off the bench. Not every Cavaliers fan believes it, or maybe wants to hear it, but I have heard from sources what others have reported: The Cavaliers are being very aggressive looking for trades headed into the deadline.
12. Nuggets (20-19, LW 12). If there is a small silver lining to the rash of injuries in Denver, it has been more Facundo Campazzo with the ball in his hands. He’s been a key secondary playmaker for the Nuggets of late, averaging 8.4 points and 7.2 assists a game in his last five (before going against Los Angeles Tuesday). The Nuggets start a six-game homestand on Thursday against the short-handed Trail Blazers, it’s a real opportunity to rack up some wins and get a more solid hold on a top-six seed, avoiding any play-in games down the line.
13. Hornets (22-19, LW 15). Back-to-back wins over the Bucks — who care’s if they are shorthanded? — is a sign the Hornets may be pulling everything together. Charlotte has won 6-of-8 and while their usually stellar offense has been good during that stretch, it’s the defense getting stops and ranking ninth in the league over that stretch that is the real difference. LaMelo Ball had the highlight of the week with the half-court, no-look bounce pass for a dunk to Mason Plumlee.
LaMelo threw a DIME on this play 😳 pic.twitter.com/TOmo8CBQt5
— NBA TV (@NBATV) January 9, 2022
14. Raptors (20-18, LW 18). It is jarring to flip on a Raptors game on League Pass right now and see no fans in the arena. Even Suns coach Monty Williams talked about how much he missed being harassed by Raptors fans — although Devin Booker was not a fan of The Raptor dancing behind the basket. The Raptors had won six in a row before the Suns came to town and Fred VanVleet has made his All-Star case during that stretch averaging 31.2 points per game.
15. Lakers (21-20, LW 16). Before the season, and again recently, LeBron James compared this team to the 2021 Tampa Bay Bucs. Part of that was they were led by an older legendary player (Tom Brady) but also because they started a little slow, were 7-5, and then went on a run to end the season and take the Vince Lombardi trophy. That sounds great for the Lakers, except they need to get healthy, and the soft part of the schedule is over. The Lakers have 9-of-12 on the road coming up.
16. Celtics (20-21, LW 14). The Celtics are not going to trade Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum at the deadline according to league sources, but will they make a move looking for more of a floor general to lead this team? This was coach Ime Udoka last week, and it sounds like he’s welcome a move: “We need some leadership, somebody that can calm us down and not get rattled when everything starts to go a little south.” Good tests for Boston’s composure against Philadelphia and Chicago this weekend.
17. Clippers (21-21, LW 13). The latest reports say the Clippers could have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George healthy by the playoffs, but they need to keep their head above water until the cavalry arrives. That’s why wins against the Hawks and Nuggets the last couple of games are so critical, if the Clippers can make it to the postseason with both of their stars healthy, they are the epitome of the team nobody wants to face.
18. Wizards (21-20, LW 17). While the Wizards have stumbled along going 4-4 in their last 8, Kyle Kuzma has been on a tear, scoring at least 21 points and averaging 11.3 rebounds a night, while shooting 54%. The Wizards will need more of that over the coming few games with the (now vaccinated) Bradley Beal back in health and safety protocols. It’s been good to see Rui Hachimura back on the court, and while he’ll take a while to round back into game form, just watching him play again is a good sign.
19. Timberwolves (20-21, LW 19). Will Karl-Anthony Towns make the All-Star team? He has played well enough, he has the stats — 24.6 points and 9.3 rebounds a game — and the Wolves are legit this season. However, the West will have two centers on the roster for sure in Jokic and Gobert, will the West coaches pick a third to go to Cleveland or will they lean toward adding another guard or wing? Minnesota looked like a team finding its footing with four straight wins, then came Tuesday’s loss to the Pelicans. One step up and…
20. Knicks (20-21, LW 20). There are other contenders for the title, but are the Knicks the most inconsistent (and frustrating) team in the league? Beat the Celtics one game in dramatic fashion, score 75 against them a couple of nights later and get blown out. The Knicks will be involved in every trade rumor between now and the deadline because they are the Knicks, but will Leon Rose continue to be patient, or will he find a deal to his liking? Everyone is waiting for the Knicks to take their big swing (but is anyone worth swinging for on this market?).
21. Hawks (17-22 LW 21). John Collins is frustrated. He can get in line behind every Hawks fan who thought last year’s trip to the Eastern Conference Finals was a springboard (or at least the start of something). Atlanta is one of the more active teams in exploring the trade market and that could/should include seeing what Collins’ value is around the league. Still, the Hawks could be better with him in house. Atlanta went 2-4 on a six-game road trip, now they walk into a home-and-home with Miami, and the Bucks loom next Monday.
22. Pacers (15-26, LW 25). “It’s just about a different kind of energy that we really need. Lance has given us a different vibe as a team.” That’s how Pacers coach Rick Carlisle described the impact of Lance Stephenson after his 16 point and career-high 14 assist game. The next day, the Pacers decided to keep Stephenson around for the rest of the season. Through five games in Indiana, Stephenson is averaging 14.2 points on 51.8% shooting.
23. Trail Blazers (16-24, LW 26). Anfernee Simons has been one of the hottest players in the NBA in January, averaging 27.8 points and 7.6 rebounds a game for Portland through five games. He has sparked the offense, which is still without Damian Lillard — who is now out at least another six weeks after surgery on his abdomen — or CJ McCollum. Speaking of bright spots of late, one is the play of Nassir Little, who has taken on a little more of the offense and been a little more efficient playing the three. If his 3-point shot starts to fall consistently, his value will go up exponentially.
24. Spurs (15-25, LW 22). DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge may have moved on the Eastern Conference contenders, but the midrange tradition continues under Gregg Popovich: 38.2% of the Spurs shots come from the midrange, second highest in the league (behind Phoenix). San Antonio takes 30.3% of its shots from 3, the lowest percentage of attempts in the league (stats via Cleaning the Glass). Popovich’s distaste for how the NBA game has evolved is something he’s not shy about discussing, and that influence is clear no matter who is taking the shots.
25. Pelicans (15-26, LW 24). Since everyone stopped playing “guess his weight” with Zion Williamson and stopped paying attention to New Orleans after a 1-12 start, the team gone 14-14 and played solid basketball. Willie Green looks like at least a solid hire as coach, if not much more. Brandon Ingram has an uphill struggle to make the All-Star team this season, but he deserves consideration at the least, averaging 22.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists a game this season — and hitting game-winners like this.
26. Kings (16-27, LW 23). Richaun Holmes has been impressive at center for Sacramento this season, but there has been a big drop off at the five when he sits. Give Damian Jones credit, he has stepped up and played well in that role the past few weeks, earning a solid spot in the rotation. Despite that and a good run of play from De'Aaron Fox, the Kings have lost five straight and have fallen out of even the play-in spots. In that stretch, the Kings are bottom seven in the league in both offense and defense in that stretch — there is no quick, easy fix for the Kings. Monte McNair needs to think long term not short at the trade deadline, but will ownership let him?
27. Pistons (9-31, LW 28). If I am going to bet on one player being traded at the deadline, it would be Jerami Grant of the Pistons — he is available for a couple of first-round picks (or a pick and a young player, plus a vet to balance the salaries). The question is where? The Lakers, Knicks, Trail Blazers and Wizards have all been mentioned in various rumors. Grant would be a great fit on this Bulls team heading into the playoffs, but the price of Patrick Williams (out for the season injured, but Chicago is very high on him) may prove too steep.
28. Thunder (13-27, LW 27). When a team is rebuilding, of course they are hunting for future stars and franchise cornerstone players, but they also need some glue guys, hustle guys, character guys that just make the team better. Enter Kenrich Williams, the fourth-year player out of TCU who just plays hard and smart every time he is on the court. He’s not racking up stats (7 points, 4 rebounds a game) but the Thunder are just better with him on the court. OKC has lost five in a row as their offense sputters, and now they have 5-of-6 on the road.
29. Rockets (11-31, LW 30). Quietly, Houston could be one of the more active teams on the trade market this February, with two quality veterans who could help teams in Eric Gordon and Christian Wood. Of course, the rebuilding Rockets will want picks and young players back. Oh, and there will be John Wall trade chatter, don’t believe any of it. Losers of 11-of-12, the Rockets are about to head out on the road for five, including the Jazz and Warriors.
30. Magic 7-34, LW 29). We’re not going to discuss any armored vehicles heavily used on World War II battlefields, but Orlando management likes what it sees in the direction of its team (despite the 9-game ongoing losing streak): team president Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond just got job extensions. There is a nice core of players here — Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr. Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac — but no true No. 1 option, no alpha. That’s always the hardest player to find, and the front office is getting more time to do it.Follow @basketballtalk