Ranking the NBA from worst to first…
30. New Jersey Nets (7-56) — Garbage in, garbage out, garbage up, garbage down.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-50) — In Monday’s loss to Dallas, Kurt Rambis sat Kevin Love most of the night and played Darko in his place, claiming he wanted to have a more active big man to give Dirk some problems. You’re over-thinking it, homeboy. Play the double-double kid.
28. Golden State Warriors (17-46) — In two of the losses during this five-game skid, GS dropped 120-plus points and still couldn’t get a win. If the Warriors played Providence College in a 40-minute game, what would be the score? We’re seeing 145-120, NBA guys.
27. Philadelphia 76ers (23-40) — They’re bad. Very bad. But hey, at least they’re boring, too, so you don’t ever get sucked into watching them on NBA League Pass.
26. New York Knicks (22-40) — They lose to the Nets, then turn around and beat Atlanta. That doesn’t even make sense.
25. Washington Wizards (21-40) — Though talented and energetic, they’re still young. Exhibit A: Playing three and a half great quarters against Boston before falling apart in crunch time.
24. Sacramento Kings (21-43) — The only intrigue left in their season is how soon Tyreke Evans can unquestionably lock up the R.O.Y. award, and if he and Carl Landry show enough chemistry for the Kings to pick up Landry’s contract option.
23. Indiana Pacers (21-43) — They were competitive for a while in losses to the Lakers and Suns, and beating any team (even Philly) without Danny Granger in the lineup is impressive for this group.
22. Los Angeles Clippers (25-39) — The Mike Dunleavy Sr. era is officially, totally over. Any update on those Isiah Thomas rumors? How about Jim Harrick? He’s local.
21. Detroit Pistons (22-41) — What kind of energy drink did Tayshaun Prince discover? He’s averaging 20.2 points in his last five games, including a 29-point effort against Houston where he was flying all over the place and dunking on cats like Josh Smith.
20. Memphis Grizzlies (33-31) — Monday’s win over the New Jersey Slump-Busters ended an eight-game home losing streak for the Grizzlies.
19. Toronto Raptors (32-30) — Lost six of their last seven, but at least Chris Bosh is back now. CB4 dropped two three-pointers against the Lakers, including a clutch one with under 10 seconds to go. Is this a new facet of his game we’re going to see more often?
18. Chicago Bulls (31-31) — Terrible time to go on a losing streak when you’re teetering on the .500 fence and still fighting for a playoff spot. Chicago has dropped four in a row, and the schedule coming up is rough: Utah, at Orlando, at Miami, at Memphis, at Dallas, Cleveland.
17. Miami Heat (32-32) — Quentin Richardson averaged 20.6 points points in last week’s three-game win streak over the Warriors, Lakers and Hawks. When Miami lost to the Bobcats on Tuesday, Q-Rich was 2-for-8 and finished with seven points.
16. New Orleans Hornets (32-31) — Since David West is putting up the exact same numbers with Darren Collison running the point as he was with Chris Paul running the point, isn’t it obvious that West is better on his own than anybody wants to admit?
15. Houston Rockets (32-31) — Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin have officially hit their stride as arguably the best scoring backcourt in the League. Some of their toughest competition comes from within their own division, as Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton keep ripping it up in New Orleans.
14. Charlotte Bobcats (31-31) — Do the Bobcats uniforms make players appear fatter than they actually are? The other night Theo Ratliff looked like Hot Plate Williams from certain camera angles. Maybe we’ve been too harsh on guys like Boris Diaw and Sean May in the past.
13. Portland Trail Blazers (38-28) — Joel Przybilla re-injured his knee when he slipped in the shower. Did Darius Miles put a hex on this team or something?
12. San Antonio Spurs (36-25) — Just when they were starting to put everything together, having won four straight over Western Conference playoff contenders, Tony Parker goes down with a broken hand.
11. Boston Celtics (40-22) — As we learned with the Wizards game, if the Celtics can get in position to win it late, they have enough experienced vets with big-game experience to get it done. Ray Allen hit the big shots against Washington, while Paul Pierce nearly delivered another dagger against Milwaukee.
10. Milwaukee Bucks (34-29) — Yeah, really. Ten wins in their last 11, including W’s over the Celtics and Cavs. Since getting snubbed as an All-Star, Andrew Bogut has been an uncaged beast out there, and John Salmons was a great deadline pickup.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (38-24) — As if they didn’t have enough young guys flashing star potential, Serge Ibaka has recorded double-doubles in two of his last five games and averaged about 10 points, 7 boards and 2 blocks in that span.
8. Atlanta Hawks (40-23) — They’ve got a bad habit of slacking off against teams perceived to be inferior. Golden State has given ATL a pair of battles over the last couple weeks, and most recently the Hawks were caught napping and lost to the Knicks. With Washington, Detroit and Jersey coming up on the schedule, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith need to keep this crew motivated.
7. Phoenix Suns (40-25) — Say what you want about Channing Frye letting midget Earl Watson get in his head and the wisdom of Jason Richardson to swing at Danny Granger, but at least the Suns are standing up for their teammates and (literally) showing some fight. You couldn’t always say that in the past.
6. Utah Jazz (41-22) — How tough is Deron Williams’ job? The last five games have seen him go head-to-head with Aaron Brooks, Steve Nash, Baron Davis (twice) and Derrick Rose. How tough is Deron Williams? He averaged 22.6 points, 12.4 dimes and 1.8 steals during that stretch.
5. Denver Nuggets (42-21) — Birdman is getting some of his swagger back. He’s swatted 3.3 shots per night over the last three games, adding 10 ppg and 7 rpg off the bench for good measure.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (47-18) — Kobe comes to the rescue against Toronto to avoid L.A. having a four-game losing streak. Kobe is masking the realities that the bench needs to step up and the defense from the point guard spot is awful.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (50-15) — Things you learn when LeBron isn’t playing: Delonte West is a pretty sick athlete, Mo Williams has no problem going back to gunning like he never left the Bucks if he has to, and Jawad Williams was a starter at North Carolina for a reason. The Cavs lost to a hot Milwaukee team (10 wins in their last 11) while LeBron nursed a sore ankle. Next time out, with no LeBron, no Shaq and Antawn Jamison gone for the second half, Cleveland managed to squeak past San Antonio.
2. Orlando Magic (45-20) — Yeah, their six-game win streak hasn’t come against elite competition, but Orlando is taking care of business against the teams they should beat — smashing the Heat, Warriors, Sixers, Nets and Clippers by an average of 20 points a night — and got past the Lakers in a game that had NBA Finals atmosphere.
1. Dallas Mavericks (44-21) — Surviving close calls against Minnesota and Sacramento, the Mavs win streak is at 12. And counting, with the Nets, Knicks, Bulls and struggling Celtics all coming up at home. Whenever someone goes down, someone else steps up: Brendan Haywood did it when Erick Dampier got hurt, now Rodrigue Beaubois (18.5 ppg in his last four) and Shawn Marion (19 ppg in his last four) and doing it since Jason Terry broke his face.