20. Golden State Warriors (6-11)
LW: 22, +2
Their eight-point home win over Portland saved them. Perhaps the return of Stephen Curry will revitalize them. He dropped 32 in his first game back, one half of one of the weirder stat lines we’ve seen from the Warriors – on the other side, Monta Ellis had four points and 12 dimes. But damn, Mark Jackson. I thought you were bringing a defensive presence back to the Bay Area? The Warriors are once again nothing more than a toll booth, sporting a defensive efficiency of 103.7, No. 26 in the NBA.
19. Milwaukee Bucks (7-10)
LW: 21, +2
If you need to go anywhere on the net for your dose of “Brandon Jennings in an All-Star” talk, y’all know where to come. Dime holds it down for B.J. But for real, I ranked him No. 2 in the great class of 2009 lead guards, and I really think he needs to be in the February showcase this year. First, as I said with Bargnani, after about seven or eight guys, the rest of the candidates fall off faster than Ja Rule. And second, Jennings has the numbers. He’s going for over 20 points a night with a PER of nearly 21. The Bucks are only 7-10, but I’d bet they make the playoffs. Their schedule this month is stupid difficult (.552 strength of schedule).
18. Boston Celtics (7-9)
LW: 20, +2
At least we know Paul Pierce‘s body isn’t chopped up in garbage. He’s back, but now Jermaine O’Neal might be out, Rajon Rondo is out and the C’s hopes are relying on guys like Avery Bradley and Mickael Pietrus. One positive sign though is they actually have a positive scoring margin. So there’s hope.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (8-10)
LW: 18, +1
Ricky Rubio continues to set the Thanksgiving table with everything possible: Chicken, turkey, salad, squash, mashed potatoes, gravy and wine. In his last five, he’s averaging 11.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 9.8 assists and 4 steals, and yet he’s shooting 23 percent from the field. Safe to say I’ve NEVER seen that before. Kevin Love loves him, and the Spanish rookie has to be one of the guys keeping the star forward in line after the team’s brass stupidly screwed around with extension negotiations and pissed Love off. For now, let’s petition to get the NBA to drop conferences and just take the 16 best teams in the playoffs. Minnesota would probably make it then.
16. Houston Rockets (10-8)
LW: 17, +1
Is Kyle Lowry still underappreciated? I’m not sure. People are finally smartening up, and there’s a rumor floating around about a swap of Pau Gasol and Kyle Lowry (with Luis Scola thrown in as well). So Lowry went from backing up Mike Conley early in his career to possibly being traded for a big-time All-Star. Things are looking up. As for Houston, Hollinger predicts they will just sneak into the playoffs, and if they can improve that No. 22 offense, I’d agree.
15. Memphis Grizzlies (10-7)
LW: 15, —
Rudy Gay is officially back now, averaging 18.4 points, grabbing 6.1 rebounds and unleashing facials all over the place. He’s like a porno right now. As for the rest of the team, everyone has stepped up their games. Marc Gasol is an All-Star, dropping nearly 15 and 10. The bench is deeper, and even Mike Conley has a PER above 20. Zach Randolph will be out for a while with his torn MCL, but once he gets back, this team should be renamed to something more ferocious than a Grizzly.
14. Portland Trail Blazers (11-8)
LW: 11, -3
In just two weeks, the Blazers have gone from No. 3 in these ranking to 14, The Godfather to The Godfather: Part III, Outkast to the St. Lunatics, from Jen Aniston to that overweight, Dorito-chomping girl with the bad breath next door. Their problems rose out of this 4-6 stretch: Gerald Wallace‘s finger is turning him into an average player, and Jamal Crawford‘s penchant to chuck from all angles already has him overvalued. It’s up to LaMarcus Aldridge – averaging 22.5 points and 8.9 rebounds – to step up even more.
13. Los Angeles Clippers (9-6)
LW: 4, -9
Did we jump the gun a lil’ on that No. 4 ranking? Maybe. Between Chris Paul scolding Pau Gasol for touching his head, and Chauncey Billups firing up uncontested pull-up threes at an alarming rate, the Clippers are lucky to still be 9-6. Even Blake Griffin is picking up some bad habits. How often do you seriously have to argue calls? Let’s just hope he doesn’t start flopping and flailing around like his point guard does. L.A. has the worst defense (25th in efficiency) for any contender in the league, and can someone please tell Vinny Del Negro to push the pace? No team with these athletes should be playing at a slower speed than all but nine teams in the league.
12. Utah Jazz (10-6)
LW: 12, —
Forget that wild double-overtime loss to Toronto last night. That was the first game all season that the Jazz lost to a team they’ve should’ve beat. Between Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and their bushel of wing players, Utah is tough and consistent. Sound familiar? Now if they can just squeeze the last few drops of juice out of Raja Bell and his awful 8.5 PER.
11. Dallas Mavericks (11-8)
LW: 14, +3
In their last 10, they’re outscoring teams by 7.5 points a night, winning seven of those games. But before he sat down, Dirk was only giving them 17.5 a night while Jason Terry is having the worst season he’s ever had in Texas, shooting 41 percent in 29 minutes a night. Lamar Odom is even worse, averaging less than eight. If Odom can give them enough until Dirk trades in the mic for some sneakers, they should be able to survive until they get that No. 21 offense moving.