Ranking the NBA from worst to first…
30. New Jersey Nets (3-30)
Last week: Beat New York, lost to Cleveland.
After closing out December by experiencing the thrill of victory for the third time, the Nets have a handful of winnable games coming up this month, including the Wizards, Pacers, Sixers, Bucks and Clippers at home.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (7-28)
Last week: Lost at San Antonio; lost to Utah; lost to Orlando; lost at Indiana.
The League’s third-worst three-point shooting team (and 4th-worst in triples made) needs a shooter or two. Anybody know what Chuck Person and Anthony Peeler are up to?
28. Indiana Pacers (10-23)
Last week: Lost at Chicago; lost to Memphis; beat Minnesota; lost at New York.
Thanks to Peyton Manning and Co., at least nobody in Indiana is paying attention to what’s happened to their basketball team.
27. Washington Wizards (10-21)
Last week: Lost to Oklahoma City; lost to San Antonio.
Is it bad if we’re kind of curious to see how many “Pick One” signs will be in the crowd the next time the Wizards go on the road?
26. Detroit Pistons (11-21)
Last week: Lost to New York; lost to Chicago.
The losing streak is at nine, and threatens to hit double digits as the Pistons travel to Dallas and San Antonio this week. The return of Rip, Tayshaun and Gordon didn’t have as much impact as expected.
25. Golden State Warriors (9-23)
Last week: Lost at L.A. Lakers; lost at Portland.
Corey Maggette has scored 20-plus points in nine of G-State’s last 10 games. Unfortunately the team has only won two of those 10 games.
24. Philadelphia 76ers (10-23)
Last week: Won at Sacramento; lost at L.A. Clippers; won at Denver.
Right up there with high-stakes card games that don’t lead to gun play, teams giving a half-assed, sluggish effort on the last night of a long road trip is an NBA staple. The Sixers deserve extra credit for going into Denver on Sunday (another hazardous road city due to the altitude) and winning the finale of a five-game West Coast swing.
23. Milwaukee Bucks (13-18)
Last week: Lost at Orlando; beat Oklahoma City.
Don’t look now, but the rookie wall might be creeping up on Brandon Jennings. His field-goal and three-point shooting percentages and his scoring dropped significantly from November to December. Either it’s The Wall, or the rest of the League is getting a better handle on how to defend Jennings.
22. New York Knicks (14-20)
Last week: Won at Detroit; lost at New Jersey; won at Atlanta; beat Indiana.
Watching Nate Robinson pour in 41 against the Hawks, a question came up: Why was Mike D’Antoni keeping him glued to the bench in the first place?
21. Sacramento Kings (14-19)
Last week: Lost to Philadelphia; lost at L.A. Lakers; lost to Dallas.
Between Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi and Jason Thompson, it’s safe to say the Kings have killed the Draft over the last two years. That should be an interesting part of the upcoming Geoff Petrie biopic, in which Jeff Goldblum plays the lead role, Steve Carell plays Tim Donaghy, and Fab Five Freddy plays Kenny Thomas.
20. Charlotte Bobcats (14-18)
Last week: Lost at Toronto; won at Miami; won at Cleveland.
Stephen Jackson cracked 30 points in back-to-back games against the Raptors and Heat, then had 22 and some crucial free throws in the upset win over the Cavs.
19. Chicago Bulls (14-18)
Last week: Beat Indiana; won at Detroit; beat Orlando; lost to Oklahoma City.
A four-game win streak probably saved Vinny Del Negro’s job, at least until the next losing streak or blown 30-point lead.
18. Los Angeles Clippers (15-18)
Last week: Lost at Portland; beat Philadelphia; beat Portland.
Chris Kaman is apparently getting into the All-Star campaign business. Kaman has the numbers (20.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg), but you could easily argue that Marcus Camby (8.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.2 bpg) is more important to the Clips.
17. Toronto Raptors (17-18)
Last week: Beat Charlotte; lost at Boston; beat San Antonio.
Chris Bosh recently became the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, passing Vince Carter for the top spot. You’ll never guess who ranks 3-4-5: Mo Peterson, Doug Christie, and Antonio Davis. Not exactly Kareem-Elgin-Magic, is it?
16. Miami Heat (17-15)
Last week: Lost at New Orleans; lost at San Antonio; lost to Charlotte; beat Atlanta.
Michael Beasley is finding his groove as Miami’s #2 scorer, averaging 17.8 points in his last five games, but his defensive lapses are still keeping him on the bench in crunch time.
15. Memphis Grizzlies (16-16)
Last week: Won at Indiana; won at Phoenix.
Looks like the Rockets have a serious contender for the most unexpected overachieving success story of the season.
14. Utah Jazz (18-16)
Last week: Won at Minnesota; lost at Oklahoma City; lost to Denver; lost to New Orleans.
Kyle Korver is very slowly working his way back, getting a few minutes here and there and starting to trust his knee again. We heard during the Jazz/Hornets game that Korver has been working with Jeff Hornacek in the meantime. That’s like Batista working with Scott Steiner on how to increase his bench press.
13. New Orleans Hornets (16-16)
Last week: Lost at Houston; beat Miami; beat Houston; won at Utah.
Nearly getting traded to Minnesota apparently lit a fire under Devin Brown. He made some clutch shots against Houston the night of the near-trade, then went on a three-game run averaging 19.3 points, including 30 against the Jazz.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (19-15)
Last week: Won at Washington; beat Utah; lost at Milwaukee; beat Chicago.
His numbers aren’t going to get anybody’s attention, but Eric Maynor has already proven to be a great pickup for OKC. His ball-hawking defense and decision making will help them win some extra games.
11. Denver Nuggets (21-13)
Last week: Won at Utah; lost to Philadelphia.
Already struggling to keep their heads above water while ‘Melo (knee) and Billups (groin) deal with their injuries, now Birdman will be out for up to a week with a bad ankle.
10. San Antonio Spurs (20-12)
Last week: Beat Minnesota; beat Miami; won at Washington; lost at Toronto.
Usually you can forgive an underachieving Spurs start because you know they’ll get it together and deliver down the stretch into the postseason. But this group is pinning a lot on Richard Jefferson, and he doesn’t necessarily have that crunch-time rep.
9. Portland Trail Blazers (22-14)
Last week: Beat L.A. Clippers; beat Golden State; lost at L.A. Clippers.
Did you know Andre Miller has the third-most career assists among active players? Only Jason Kidd and Steve Nash outrank him. Miller handed out 16 dimes against the Clippers on Monday.
8. Houston Rockets (20-14)
Last week: Beat New Orleans; beat Dallas; lost at New Orleans.
Tough schedule this week with road games against the Lakers and Suns, and you can’t just pencil in the Knicks as a guaranteed “W” anymore.
7. Atlanta Hawks (21-12)
Last week: Lost to Cleveland; lost at Cleveland; lost to New York; lost at Miami.
Six losses in their last eight games — with the wins coming against the lowly Pacers and Wolves — and suddenly the Hawks don’t look so hot as a darkhorse contender in the East.
6. Orlando Magic (24-9)
Last week: Beat Milwaukee; won at Minnesota; lost at Chicago.
All this talk about Dwight Howard not getting enough touches, but what’s up with Marcin Gortat’s buckets? The Polish Hammer can’t get a play drawn up for him?
5. Dallas Mavericks (23-11)
Last week: Lost at Houston; won at Sacramento; lost at L.A. Lakers.
It wasn’t so long ago that Pistons-Spurs-Jazz-Lakers would be considered a murderously cruel stretch of schedule. It’s still tough nowadays, but not that bad. We could see the Mavs going 3-1.
4. Boston Celtics (24-8)
Last week: Lost at Phoenix; beat Toronto.
With KG, Pierce and Rondo out of the lineup, Rasheed Wallace decided to have a throwback night against Toronto. On his way to 16 points, ‘Sheed was breaking out spin moves and baseline dunks he hasn’t used in years.
3. Phoenix Suns (21-13)
Last week: Beat Boston; lost to Memphis.
Coming off blowout wins over the Lakers and Celtics, of course you follow it up by getting smoked by the Grizzlies in your own gym. Simply a letdown, or just another reminder that these Suns will never be a serious title threat?
2. Los Angeles Lakers (27-6)
Last week: Beat Golden State; beat Sacramento; beat Dallas.
Kobe closed out the calendar year 2009 with a season-high 44 points against G-State, then opened 2010 with a buzzer-beating game-winner against Sacramento. Apparently his resolution is to cop another MVP to go with a fifth ‘chip.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (27-9)
Last week: Won at Atlanta; beat Atlanta; won at New Jersey; lost to Charlotte.
Yeah, they lost to the Bobcats, but let’s not forget that L snapped a seven-game overall win streak and an 11-game home win streak. Not to mention recent convincing wins over the Lakers and Suns, and last week’s playoff-atmosphere W’s over Atlanta.