You may as well play Whodini’s ‘Rumors’ in the background of this week’s rankings, as that definitely seems to be the theme around the NBA. We heard rumors of the pending sale of the Sacramento Kings that could potentially end with the franchise being relocated to Seattle, Wa. There have been all types of rumors surrounding the availability of players such as Rudy Gay (Grizzlies), Pau Gasol (Lakers), and Tayshawn Prince (Pistons). There have even been rumors of an All Star break return for Andrew Bynum, the Philadelphia 76ers’ biggest off-season acquisition.
Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, LeBron James
#1 Los Angeles Clippers 30-9 (Last week- 1): Not only are the Clippers the best team in the league, but their roster depth permits them to continue playing dominant basketball even in the absence of MVP-candidate Chris Paul. LAC went into Houston and Memphis on back-to-back nights sans Paul and won by an average of 15 points.
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder 30-8 (2): KD’s name has been left out of the MVP discussion for much of the year. His recent stretch of 34.2 PPG, 6.4 rebs, 4.8 asts, and 1.8 blocks per game (last five) should remind folks of just how much his game has developed and how dominant this (recently less) silent assassin can be. OKC goes on the road for 8-10.
#3 San Antonio Spurs 29-11 (3): The fact that San Antonio has recently been ‘treading water’ shouldn’t surprise anyone. Coach Popovich is a master at monitoring minutes and pacing the Spurs throughout the month of January in anticipation of the annual Rodeo Trip that kicks off the month of February. Expect much of the same with San Antonio next stretch of four games in six nights.
#4 Miami Heat 24-12 (4): Even though they’ve recently struggled, the Heat remain the top seed out East. With 40+ games to address their issues, it actually might take a roster move (or two) to correct the rebounding and interior issues they have. They’ve been out-rebounded in five of their previous six losses, and by double-digits in a majority of those. Back-to-back on the road vs. the Warriors and Lakers could be very telling.
#5 Denver Nuggets 24-16 (N/A): After a surprisingly slow start, the Nuggets have gone on a 13-4 run that resembles the team we all expected. Coach Karl utilizes depth and interchangeable players as well as any coach. This week should be interesting, as the Nuggets sandwich a visit from John Wall and the Wizards with a home-and-home with the top-seeded OKC Thunder.
#6 Memphis Grizzlies 24-12 (8): For a team that has become a perennial threat at being top-4 seed, it has been a bit surprising to have hear the rumors of both Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph being on the trading block. It’s possible, they want to address the ball-stopping redundancy issue both players are guilty of contributing to, but I just find it difficult to believe they would truly consider moving both.
#7 New York Knicks 24-13 (6): At just 4-5 since Raymond Felton went down with an injury, it isn’t a mystery why the Knicks are suddenly struggling. Amar’e is still playing limited playing time, but it will be interesting to see how the Knicks respond to the eventual returns of Felton and Iman Shumpert.
#8 Brooklyn Nets 23-15 (N/A): Whether you agreed with Avery Johnson’s firing, fact is, the Nets are as hot as any team (9-1) in the league under P.J. Carlesimo. Much like the Knicks have shown under Mike Woodson, sometimes a different “voice” can get through to the same group of players. The next two weeks should give us some true insight into Brooklyn’s ultimate place in the Eastern Conference hierarchy.
#9 Golden State Warriors 23-13 (5): Dropping three of four games is no way to head into what will likely be the most difficult 15-game stretch of the season, but if the Warriors are to develop into a true playoff threat they’ll have to find a way to stay on pace. At about 21 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds per game, Stephen Curry could be on his way to his first All Star appearance.
#10 Indiana Pacers 24-15 (N/A): Much like what has taken place in Denver, the Pacers have overcome a surprisingly slow start to go on a 14-4 run of their own. Paul George’s game has finally developed along with his 6’8″ frame, as the 3rd year small forward has some NBA insiders whispering about the availability of a suddenly expendable Danny Granger.
Will the real Eastern Conference please stand up? Not saying things are perfect in the Western Conference, but once again, the balance of power in the NBA seems to have shifted considerably to the West. Don’t tell Los Angeles Lakers fans this, as things have only grown worse for a franchise accustomed to riding a seemingly never-ending wave of success. Folks are gripping in Laker Land, as Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and back-up Jordan Hill are all out indefinitely with various injuries.
With the Heat placing some distance between themselves and the rest of the East, outside of the Knicks and (possibly) the Bulls, folks are waiting to see if the Celtics are going to be able to generate enough of a consistent fight to challenge as a contender once the postseason rolls around.
#1 Los Angeles Clippers 27-8: Even though Chris Paul got “baptized” in the meeting with his building-mate Lakers, the Clippers were still able to come away with a short-handed (Crawford) victory at the end of the day. That’s the difference between these Clippers and any other team in franchise history…they win the tough games. The Clippers are getting healthier while other teams are getting dinged up. As crazy as it may sound, the biggest concern in Lob City may be how coach Vinny Del Negro manages all of their talent down the stretch.
#2 OKC Thunder 26-8: Slip-up in Washington aside, the Thunder remain the top team out West. OKC fans have to hope they’ve has gotten it out of their system, as the Thunder play 9 of 11 on the road, and most coming against fellow Western Conference playoff contenders. They may have the ability to slam the door shut on a couple spiraling teams like the Lakers and Mavericks as they play each of them twice over the next two weeks.
#3 San Antonio Spurs 27-10: For as much as folks have been justifiably lauding the exploits of an elder-statesman like Kobe Bryant, folks might want to take a moment to look at the numbers Tim Duncan, AKA “Father Time”, has been putting up. While some folks may have thought Duncan was washed up a few years back, in he is putting up 17.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game in his 16th season. The Spurs have a big 5-game stretch coming up against Western Conference playoff contenders and wannabe’s.
#4 Miami Heat 23-9: As mentioned, the Heat have distanced themselves from the rest of the pack in the East. I’m not sure whether that is actually the best thing for the Heat, as they look poised to coast to the playoffs unless someone challenges them in the second half. After spending the better part of December in Miami, the schedule could actually be the great equalizer, as the Heat play 10 of the next 12 on the road.
#5 Golden State Warriors 22-11: I wouldn’t place too much stock in that double-digit loss at the hands of the Clippers. Make no mistake about it, L.A. needed that victory, having already dropped the first two meetings vs. the Warriors. If I’m not mistaken, David Lee is the only player in the league currently averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds (19.9/10.9). Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have also paced them with outside shooting, but the true test for GS remains how coach Mark Jackson is able to integrate Andrew Bogut into the mix once he is available to return.
#6 New York Knicks 23-11: Following a blazing start to the season, the Knicks are just 5-6 over their previous 11 games. Strangely enough, Melo has actually increased his shots per game (24.8) since Amar’e has returned. The question remains: Will the Knicks be able to continue working together and find a way for all the parts to fit, especially once Iman Shumpert returns from injury?
#7 Houston Rockets 20-14: James Harden is, once again, making people “Fear The Beard” in Houston. For as much credit as we give Melo for his numbers, a strong case could be made for Harden’s stats actually being more impressive. He and Lin seemed to have found a way to co-exist in the same back court, as they lead the highest scoring offense in the NBA. The Rockets could be a player away from surprising a team or two in the playoffs. Like most other teams, this next stretch could be key for Houston, as they play 10 of 13 on the road.
#8 Memphis Grizzlies 22-10: Boasting the league’s stingiest defense (89.1 PPG), the Grizzlies have weathered a bit of an injury storm, and maintained a top-4 seed out West. Trade rumors are swirling, as the Grizzlies happen to be one of those small market teams that spends like a relatively big market franchise. Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph’s names have been mentioned in the most recent rumors, but I would find it surprising if they were to move such a large bulk of their offense in one move, considering they are 23rd in total scoring (94.8 PPG).
#9 Chicago Bulls 19-13: For as much as folks want to clown Carlos Boozer for his spray-on hair and gargantuan contract, the man has actually been playing some inspired basketball for the Bulls. As they await updated news on the Derrick Rose front, the Bulls have won 4-5 and Boozer’s 23/12 on 53% shooting over that stretch has been key. Big meeting with the Knicks at MSG on Friday night that could shift the balance of power in the East if the Bulls were able to go into NY and make a statement.
#10 Atlanta Hawks 20-12: The Hawks continue to linger just along the outside of the teams to take seriously once the playoffs arrive. Josh Smith, to his credit, seems a bit rejuvenated on the defensive end. Smith has 13 blocks and eight steals over his previous four games. With rumors also surrounding his name (what’s new?), it will be interesting to see if the Hawks are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline.
Today’s episode, to no one’s surprise, dealt with the fall-out of the Lakers vs. Clippers showdown, and where it leaves the Lakers moving forward.
The Chicago Bulls may have momentarily slipped out of the top-10, but they will remain on the radar until we see what Derrick Rose looks like upon returning. If Rose is able to rekindle even 80 percent of what he had going just two seasons ago, the Bulls could be a darkhorse candidate in the East Conference. They may not have enough on the roster to win an outright title, but Coach Thibodeau’s squad may be able to play the role of ‘spoiler’ once we get to playoff basketball.
The Los Angeles Lakers are getting healthy (Nash/Gasol return), and it is by no coincidence they are finally showing signs of life. They’ve won 5-straight, while Bryant is up to 9-straight 30+ PPG, and fans in LA are finally seeing slivers of a team that entered the 2012-13 season with the highest level of expectation in recent years. Watch out for the Lakers and Boston Celtics lurking their way(s) up the rankings as each team gets healthy and settles into the New Year. Don’t even talk to me about Brooklyn. They struggled without Brook Lopez, but are suddenly continuing to struggle now that he has returned. They’re 3-9 over their past 12, and Avery Johnson could be next on their star point guard’s coach killer list.
#1 Los Angeles Clippers 22-6 (Last week- 2): No more 1-liners about how different this team looks, no more speculation over if they could maintain the pace, and no more references to the “Clippers Curse”…unless (until) it rears its ugly head. Lob City is the deepest team in the league, hits you with waves of talent, and comes to play on a nightly basis.
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder 21-6 (1): The back-to-back road losses to Minnesota and Miami were the first consecutive losses for the Thunder all season. Something tells me they’ll be okay. One question has resurfaced: Beyond Durant/Westbrook, where will they turn to for play-making ability in a tough series vs. the better teams? They should be fine for now, but will need to answer that question in the postseason.
#3 Miami Heat 19-6 (4): The Heat won the first installment of the 2012 Finals rematch, and ran their current streak to five games. Not only five-straight wins, but four of the five by double-digits. The Heat’s near month-long stay-cation in Miami is over, and they’ll have to utilize that new-found health while battling through 10 of the next 13 games being on the road.
#4 New York Knicks 20-8 (3): No shame in dropping one (on the road) to a surging team, but the Knicks need to settle it down. With multiple reports of their attempts to move injured PF Amar’e Stoudemire recently surfacing, we are all eager to see how coach Woodson is able to work Stoudemire (soon to return) back into the mix without off-setting their positive flow/balance.
#5 San Antonio Spurs 21-8 (5): The Spurs look as though they’ve ended their rare and momentary funk, as they’ve followed up losing four of five with consecutive wins. They’ll hover around, as they normally do, before taking off around the annual Rodeo Trip. Health, like any other year, will be their ultimate determining factor.
#6 Memphis Grizzlies 18-7 (6): They may have taken a 20+ point loss at the hands of the Rockets, but the Grizzlies are continuing to coast along, winning just over two of every three games…which is what they’ll continue to do all season, barring any major injuries.
#7 Golden State Warriors 18-10 (7): They’ve dropped (a bit) after losing two of three, but still maintain in the playoff mix out West. it will be interesting to see how the parts fit together once starting center Andrew Bogut returns. Tough 6-game stretch facing them, with the final two coming against the Los Angeles Clippers (twice) and Memphis.
#8 Atlanta Hawks 16-9 (8): Had they not been able to make such quick work of the Bulls (92-75), the Hawks would have dropped. They have a softer patch in the schedule, which should permit them to get back into a groove before a test on the road vs the Rockets (next Monday).
#9 Indiana Pacers 16-12 (N/A): Winners of six of their past seven games, the Pacers are finally looking like the team that surprised much of the Eastern Conference last season. After receiving that huge contract, Roy Hibbert simply hasn’t been able to get rekindle last season’s success.
#10 Houston Rockets 15-12 (N/A): The Rockets have won six of seven, and James Harden is back to playing MVP-type basketball over his past five games (29 ppg, 4.6 rebs, 5.6 asts). Let’s see how they handle their next four games: @Minnesota, @San Antonio, vs. OKC, vs. Atlanta.
Andrew Bynum claims playing with Kobe Bryant was essentially a gift and a curse. To be exact, he said Bryant made the game easier for him at the start of his career, but could see how playing alongside Bryant actually stunted his growth in the long run. I’ll say this, as a resident of Los Angeles, I miss Bynum’s candor and flat-out willingness to say whatever came to mind. While I can somewhat see where a person in Bynum’s position could justify such feelings, but I would venture to say the 130 games Bynum missed (due to various injuries) between 2007 and 2012 likely played a larger role than anything else. Speaking of playing with Bryant, after an unforeseen early season struggle, the Lakers are finally close to being at full strength with the news of Pau Gasol and Steve Nash returns within the next week. It will be interesting to see what that team can do with its full complement of players. Did they dig too much of a hole already?
#1 Oklahoma City Thunder 20-4 (Last week- 1): You can just about count on the automatic productivity of guys like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but when the Thunder get the 25/17 (PTS/REBS) games they got from Serge Ibaka in Monday’s win over San Antonio they are just about unbeatable. Kevin Martin continues to provide steady scoring off the bench, and the Thunder have won 11 straight. Up next: A three game road trip that ends with a Finals rematch at Miami on Christmas Day.
#2 Los Angeles Clippers 18-6 (6): Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…but these aren’t your father’s Clippers. Judge them by their past history if you’d like, but this simply is not the same team. Outside of the obvious roster improvements, this is a team that has suddenly started winning a majority of their road games (8-3). Anyone that knows the game will tell you winning road games is generally the difference between the “good” and the “great” in the NBA.
#3 New York Knicks 18-6 (4): They may have lost a short-handed showdown with Jeremy Lin and the Rockets, but the Knicks remain the top team out East. Melo is day-to-day, but should return to action on Wednesday vs. Brooklyn or Friday vs. Chicago. Their Christmas Day match-up with the Lakers could be the best game of the day if the stars are aligned.
#4 Miami Heat 15-6 (3): The defending champions haven’t left Miami since Dec. 6th, and only travel out of the state once more (@Dal 12/20) until after Christmas. Even with the home-friendly schedule and having played several games less than most other teams over the past couple weeks, the Heat have been up and down (3-3 over the last six). Ricky Rubio’s return could make their meeting with Minnesota a fun game to watch, but we all want to see the OKC rematch.
#5 San Antonio Spurs 19-7 (2): It’s a rare thing to see the Spurs lose three of four, but that’s exactly what the last six days held in store for San Antonio. No holiday game for the Spurs, but their match-ups @ Denver and vs. New Orleans should be interesting. We had better enjoy the teacher vs student pairing of Duncan vs. Ant Davis while we can.
#6 Memphis Grizzlies 16-6 (5): Memphis responded to three tough losses with consecutive convincing wins @ Utah and vs. Chicago. Even with the momentary slide, the Grizzlies remain one of the grittiest teams and stingiest defenses in the NBA. They lead the league in points allowed (90 PPG), and are currently 4th in point differential (+6.4).
#7 Golden State Warriors 16-8 (8): The most impressive thing about the Warriors’ early-season success is the fact that they are 10-5 on the road. In fact, they just went 6-1 on a 10-day road trip that featured wins over Miami, Brooklyn, and Atlanta. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have shown steady improvement, but David Lee is quietly putting up some of the best numbers of his career. A win in Saturday’s home game vs their Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Lakers could be the just the statement this up-and-coming team needs in order to fully establish itself as a playoff contender in the eyes of the public.
#8 Atlanta Hawks 14-7 (7): The Hawks salvaged the week by sandwiching a couple wins between two disappointing losses at the hands of the Heat (@ Miami) and vs. the Warriors. Due to Miami’s recent struggles, Atlanta remains just a game behind them in the Southeast Division. Big match-ups with OKC, @Philly, and Chicago coming up this week.
#9 Chicago Bulls 13-10 (10): Although highly respected, Tom Thibodeau still doesn’t get the type of acclaim he may deserve. The Bulls are currently a 4-seed, which means that even without the services of their franchise player (Derrick Rose), the are in a position to host a playoff series if the season were to end today. Obviously, we have a long way to go before the postseason, but with Rose already ahead of schedule and actively rehabbing his knee, the Bulls could return to a contender status if Rose is able to return to form.
#10 Brooklyn Nets 13-10 (9): The spiraling Nets look to be back on track, even with the tough road loss at the hands of the Bulls. As will be the case throughout the season, the productivity that Brook Lopez and the front court brings will generally be the difference for this team. After signing him to a 2-year $24 million dollar contract in the off-season, Brooklyn has to be disappointed in what the recently benched Kris Humphries is bringing to the table.
As short-lived as it may have been, the Clippers will no longer occupy the top spot in the rankings. No, they won’t slide completely out of the rankings, but it could take some time to dig themselves out of the hole they’ve dug. Not only did they fall into 2nd in the Pacific Division behind the Golden State Warriors (enjoy it while it lasts, Klay), but they find themselves just one game ahead of their Staples Center co-tenants. A team that looks as though it may be on the rise, even without the services of their top point guards. Meanwhile, out East, Brooklyn managed to come away with an OT victory vs. their crosstown rival New York Knicks. I see you putting in work, Atlanta. No, not quite in the rankings just yet, but definitely worth keeping an eye on.
#1 Miami Heat 10-3 (Last week- 3): The defending champs had to wait a few weeks, but they are finally back atop the rankings. Partially, due to their own steady play, but partly in result of the faltering of those previously above…the point is, Miami has endured adversity of its own, even at such an early portion of the season, but looks strong. They still struggle to keep stronger or more athletic big men off the boards, which could come back to haunt them in the post season. San Antonio and Brooklyn (this week) should challenge their position.
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder 11-4 (4): Doesn’t this look familiar? OKC out and running, absolutely blitzing the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday. This team can put points up with the best of them. Time for the showdown many of us have been waiting for, as they host James Harden and the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. Does Harden return to Chesapeake Energy Arena guns a’ blazing, or do Thabo Sefolosha or even Westbrook keep him from erupting?
#3 San Antonio Spurs 12-3 (6): The Spurs always leave me with the “what more can I say?” feeling when analyzing them. Duncan continues to defy age with his incredible play. 15 year in, and the man is having one of his more efficient seasons to date. Tony Parker is back to playing to every bit as much of an MVP level as Carmelo Anthony has to this point. The Spurs wrap up their 6-game roadie with visits to Orlando and Miami. Should they complete the trip undefeated, expect another surge in these rankings.
#4 Memphis Grizzlies 10-2 (5): They may have started the week by dropping a tough one at home vs. Denver, but following that up with wins over the visiting Lakers and Cavs was still enough to warrant a step forward. They host Toronto and Detroit before heading to San Antonio for a big match-up on Saturday.
#5 Brooklyn Nets 9-4 (8): As I often say, it isn’t how you start, it’s how you finish. Even though the Nets lost tough road games at the hands of the Lakers and Warriors to start the week, they ended it with impressive wins over the Clippers, Blazers, and crosstown Knicks. This next stretch should tell us how real they are: @Boston, @Orlando, @Miami, vs. OKC.
#6 New York Knicks 9-4 (2): The next 7-10 days will certainly tell whether the Knicks’ most recent 1-3 stretch was more of a blip than a sign of things to come. Several winnable games, followed by tough road tests @Miami and @Chicago. Amar’e isn’t slated to return for over a month, but there has already been talk of him returning as a 6th-man type. As much as I want to see STAT succeed, I’m not certain the Ginobili role is one he would ultimately embrace.
#7 Los Angeles Clippers 8-6 (1): Back to life, back to reality. No, the Clippers certainly don’t deserve to be out of the rankings (entirely), but the sure did have a rapid fall from grace after a nice 6-game stretch. Their next six games are against teams they should be able to (more than) compete with. Those explosive games from DeAndre Jordan are becoming more and more scarce, and it is no coincidence the Clippers have run into trouble. LAC will need consistency from players like Jordan, Crawford, and Bledsoe.
#8 Los Angeles Lakers 7-7 (9): Speaking of consistency, all of Lakers Nation wants to know which team they should expect to see…the one that gets run off the court by the Kings and Grizzlies, or the one that resembles an absolute world-beater in a road destruction of the Dallas Mavericks? As crazy as it sounds, the Nash injury may end up being a blessing, as Darius Morris seems to be finding his way as a young point guard. Look out for Jamison and Meeks finding a groove.
#9 Boston Celtics 8-6 (N/A): After so much roster movement in the off-season, the up and down pace at the start should not have been a surprise. Rondo has been nothing short of spectacular. Even with improvements, you wonder how long Garnett and Pierce can stay healthy? Avery Bradley has returned to physical activity, but no updates have been given regarding his return to action. They host Brooklyn and Portland, before wrapping up the week with a trip to Milwaukee on Sat.
#10 Philadelphia 76ers 8-6 (10): Outside of a tough one against Westbrook and OKC, Jrue Holiday continues to show signs of significant improvement. Posting career numbers in nearly every significant statistical category, alongside a steadily improving Evan Turner, Holiday has given Philly fans a serious reason to eagerly await the return of newly-acquired Andrew Bynum to finally complete the inside-outside attack. Trouble is, with the recent set-back (#BowlingGate), Bynum may not be available until the New Year.
A bit of movement in this week’s rankings, but things are definitely starting to round into shape. Some folks may be surprised by the rapid ascension by the Clippers, but beating the Spurs (twice), winning by double-digits in Portland, and knocking off the defending champs (Heat) all within the past 12 days would warrant such a move. Brooklyn held up their end of the bargain, although some would say a favorable schedule helped. As I always say, beat the team ahead of you on the schedule, and allow the standings to take care of themselves. Could the West be even stronger than initially expected? The Eastern Conference remains highly top heavy, while teams like Minnesota (injuries), Utah, Portland, and even Golden State are all hovering right around or above the .500 mark. Don’t sleep on Denver finding a way to live up to the preseason hype. Kenneth Faried, not JaVale McGee, looks as though he’s really taken a step forward. Which Denver big man went to Olajuwon’s camp, again? Boston, you lost by a dub at Detroit. I don’t even know where to start with that.
#1 Los Angeles Clippers 8-2 (Last Week- 5): Enough of the played out “New Day in L.A.” rhetoric. Plain and simple, the Clippers are not only good…they’re legit. DeAndre Jordan‘s fast start has cooled, but the Clippers get so much consistent productivity from the bench (Bledsoe, Crawford, Barnes) they have enough to withstand a few lapses from the starters. Nice road test (this week) with trips to OKC, Brooklyn, and Atlanta on the schedule.
#2 New York Knicks 7-1 (2): Road loss on the second night of a back-to-back in Memphis aside, the win in San Antonio (the night prior) and a double-digit victory over Indiana have the Knicks comfortably settled in the 2-hole. May be challenged by five of next six being on the road, but a steady Carmelo Anthony and resurgent Raymond Felton have Knicks fans feeling comfortable about playing anywhere…right now.
#3 Miami Heat 8-3 (3): All three losses have been on the road, so it was no surprise when the Heat dropped one to the streaking Clippers on L.A. You pretty much know what you’re getting from LeBron and Bosh, but Wade’s health and consistent contributions from others will remain a concern. Only three games left for the month, so Wade should be able to rest and return to health.
#4 Oklahoma City Thunder 8-3 (4): Much like I won’t penalize other teams for the opponents they’ve faced, I won’t knock OKC for half of their wins coming at the expense of teams like Toronto, Detroit, and Cleveland. That said, I’m still not certain where to place this team (following the Harden deal) in terms of where they’ll ultimately be. Home game vs the Clippers before back-to-back roadies at Boston/Philly (this week) may clear that up for me.
#5 Memphis Grizzlies 8-2 (6): Outside of the opening night road loss at the hands of the Clippers, the Grizzlies once again look like that hungry/scrappy team you definitely don’t want to face on the second night of a tough stretch. Although they dropped one vs. an improving Denver squad, the Grizzlies have been receiving balanced contributions from one of the best front lines in the NBA (Gay/Randolph/MGasol). Friday night should be a lot of fun, as they play host to the Lakers.
#6 San Antonio Spurs 8-3 (1): Nothing personal, San Antone…as the team is still looking like a dominant force, even with the drop in the rankings. Two home losses to the Knicks and Clippers within the same week are a concern, but not the end of the world. As seems to be the annual case with San Antonio, look for them to “right the ship” on the road with the next six games (9 days) take them on an East coast swing.
#7 Milwaukee Bucks 6-3 (7): Atop the Central Division, the Bucks don’t care whether you respect them or not. Beneficiaries of a Rose-less Chicago and a listless start by Indiana, the Bucks could do a great deal to prove themselves over the next stretch of games. At Miami, home-and-home with Chicago, home for the Knicks, before a back-to-back with Minnesota and Boston should either silence all doubts or completely justify them.
#8 Brooklyn Nets 6-2 (N/A): Been repeatedly asked about Brooklyn via Twitter (@LA_SportsTalk), so I will finally acknowledge the fact that they go hard against teams like the Magic, Cavs, and Raptors, but I want to see them against the Lakers (Tuesday), Clippers (Friday), Blazers and Knicks (Sunday/Monday). First up, Shaq’s dream match-up of his #1 Center Brook Lopez vs. a recovering Dwight Howard. The Warriors, the following night, are no slouches.
#9 Los Angeles Lakers 5-5 (9): From 1-4 under Brown, to 4-1 since Bernie Bickerstaff (while waiting on D’Antoni) took over. Biggest difference? Bickerstaff has simply gotten out of the way and let the ‘talent’ shine. Kobe is doing his best 2006 impression, Dwight is rounding into shape and erasing the asinine notion of him being anything other than the game’s top big man, and the Lakers are actually getting effort and productivity from the bench. Time to prove what you can do under D’Antoni.
#10 Philadelphia 76ers 6-5 (N/A): Lost in the wake of the attention injured C Andrew Bynum’s pimp-mop hairstyle has been receiving, the Sixers have been quietly taking care of business. This young core plays hard, and gives Coach Collins maximum effort on a nightly basis. Jrue Holiday has emerged as the perfect point guard to match with a dominant big man. Bynum’s recent setback is a major concern, but it looks as though Philly has enough to maintain in his absence.