1. Los Angeles Clippers (Last Week: 1)
Bledsoe. What a little monster. If you’d told me that the most impressive athletic feat of the Clips’ season would come from someone not named Blake, or Deandre, I’d have slapped you. But there it was: Young Buck rising up to block a dunk by Wade (whose body seems to be getting more Floridian by the day it would seem). On aesthetics alone the Clips are the league’s best offering, and their games have the cachet that comes with being the blogosphere’s consensus #1 team. Lots to love here. In fact, I can’t think of anything to be lukewarm about. OK, maybe Tough Juice. Tough Juice is still boring as hell.
2. Miami Heat (Last Week: 2)
LeBron’s signature moment to-date came on 11/12 against HOU when, with about 30 seconds left in a tie ball game, he broke the Rockets down off the dribble, put in a spinning layup, and jogged toward the MIA bench all stone-faced and shit. I didn’t know LeBron had that good stone face. If he’s got it, and keeps finding occasions to flash it, that changes everything. Yep, Miami is a good NBA team. Would watch again.
3. Charlotte Bobcats (Last Week: 24)
Going into the season, I expected this roster to be an LP candy store. The list of players I enjoy watching so is long - Kemba, MKG, Gordon, Mullens, Sessions, Taylor, Biyombo - that on the basis of individual accomplishment alone, they would be fun to watch. But Mike “Who?” Dunlap has these guys playing in a system. They swing the ball and take smart shots, everyone has a role, and they have more confidence than a young team ought to. If they can get Bismack to maximize his athleticism - he’s running Toronto’s bigs off the floor as I write this - they’re a playoff lock. That’s right. You read it here 34th.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (Last Week: 5)
I’m not so sure that The Trade was bad for OKC’s long-term growth. Hear me out: we’ve known for a while now that KD’s had more to offer than he was showing us. He was a sick playmaker in the 2010 World Championships, flashing real “point forward” bona fides. But so long as the Thunder had two PG’s on the roster (for all intents and purposes), Durant’s floor game would remain bottled up. But now Harden’s gone, and turning the keys over to Russy is such an unacceptable option that KD’s had no choice step up as an offensive initiator. Well, step up he has, and the results have been awfully fun to take in.
5. New York Knicks (Last Week: 25)
Melo at Power Forward is an unqualified success. Rasheed’s post defense off the bench has plenty to do with that, of course, as does the relative dearth of big bodies in the Eastern Conference. Add it all up and you have a Knicks team that spreads the floor and plays heady, guard-oriented ball that’s easy on the eyes and, hey! Winning a couple games.
6. Denver Nuggets (Last Week: 3)
Finally, some signs of life after two weeks of hanging tough against quality competition, only to go cold in crunch time. Gallinari’s appearance in last Monday’s win against Memphis was a beacon of hope. As was their resilient win over a Minnesota team looking to pop champagne over Love’s return. It’s a far cry from their preseason expectations, but they’re taking baby-steps toward the dynamism we’d hoped for.
7. Houston Rockets (Last Week: 4)
I don’t get it. A couple weeks ago this team was whipping the rock around the perimeter until a good shot availed itself. Now, Harden and Lin take turns pounding the air of the ball until they’re forced to create something off the dribble — the latter being especially terrible at it. It’s bad hoops, and it’s a disappointing turn in two players’ story lines that had at one point been among the most compelling in the league. For now I’ll attribute the change to McHale’s absence from the bench, but I have a feeling that’s being generous.
8. Portland Trail Blazers (Last Week: 7)
Lillard put up the clutch performance of the week with his fourth quarter and OT period against Houston. He’s a stud and crazy fun to watch, but the unsung hero has been Batum, who spaces the floor, gets out on the break — generally makes life easier for everyone. Now I’m hearing a lot of “Kirilenko’s an All-Star” buzz, which I reckon is warranted in certain lights. But is there a planet on which you’d select AK-47 ahead of the Frenchman? I’d say no.
9. Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 10)
Pau passing to Howard from the high post to the low was a thing of beauty in D’Antoni’s debut against the Nets. I don’t know why it took a coaching change to execute that; it seems like a pretty obvious wrinkle to incorporate. But hey, if there’s more of that in the offing, I can get excited about this team again, even in Nash’s absence.
10. Memphis Grizzlies (Last Week: 16)
This is where I’ll drop my one mea culpa for the week. Not because the Grizzlies have been effective (as they so clearly have been) but because they’ve been surprisingly flashy. Gasol’s Dream Shake-lite move on Perkins was the highlight of the season, and Gay has been forcing the issue in transition. Add in a bench that shows up with big scoring contributions four nights in five and you have a team that isn’t nearly so leaden as I originally thought.
11. Philadeliphia 76ers (Last Week: 19)
Jrue Holiday has been nothing short of fantastic since I accused him of hiding in plain sight. His shot is on, he’s making the right passes and, most importantly, he’s been a killer in the clutch, as evidenced by his late-game throttling of Jose Calderon on Tuesday night. And now that Richardson’s back on the court, Philly’s spacing is right. Which means they look more like the dangerous army of swing guards we hoped they’d be and less like a team hanging on until Bynum finishes his quintessential work on black suffrage and plays some ball.
12. Milwaukee Bucks (Last Week: 27)
Let’s talk stop talking about what ails “the Bucks’ backcourt.” Because we’re talking about two different people here. There’s Monta Ellis, the undersized, inefficient chucker about whom we know everything there is to know. And then there’s Brandon Jennings, the 23 year-old point guard who’s improved leaps and bounds as a playmaker, takes smart shots for the most part and is doing a lot - a whole lot - to earn a Ty Lawson/Jrue Holiday/Steph Curry contract. See? Two guys. One is a legit reason to watch the Bucks. The other I entreat you to tolerate, because this team is actually decent, otherwise.
13. Golden State Warriors (Last Week: 12)
I like that boy Barnes. I like that he’s stepped up with scoring help as Klay Thompson’s shot has inexplicably fallen off a cliff; I like he’s played a big role in quality wins (@MIN, @DAL) as the W’s make their move up the Western Conference the ladder. In fact, it’s mostly because of Barnes that I, being an ethical, technological Luddite, am willing to go through the trouble of circumventing LP’s local broadcast restrictions to watch Golden State do its thing. You hear that Harrison? You’re piracy-worthy, bro.
14. Brooklyn Nets (Last Week: 11)
Their standout games to-date are a win vs. a Rondo-less Celtics team and a spirited but failed outing against the Lakers in D’Antoni’s debut. Needless to say, I don’t think they’re in any shape to stand up to the NBA’s elite clubs. And given their flaws on the defensive end, I don’t see why that would change.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (Last Week: 21)
Love’s back and looking a whooooole lot like Kevin Love. Which is fantastic, because of all the would-be lower seeds in the Western Conference playoff picture, Minnesota’s the only team that’s played smart and hard enough to deserve a postseason berth. Show me some healthy Pek and a little less Derrick Williams, and I’ll be ready to hang tough with the T-Wolves until the show starts in earnest (Spanish Rubio’s return).
16. San Antonio Spurs (Last Week: 13)
I’ve said it before — I can only get so excited about a Spurs team that’s been around since Saved By The Bell: The New Class, and that’s when they’re at their best. So with Kawhi out and Manu playing like rat absolute butt, I feel totally justified in watching them only sparingly.
17. Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 17)
Quality, quality home win at NYK against a Knicks team that’s been rolling. Color me impressed. I do think Mayo has to cool off at some point, but there’s a lot more here that is real than isn’t: the front court D, for instance, isn’t going anywhere, and should be enough to keep them competitive until Dirk comes back (whenever that is).
18. Atlanta Hawks (Last Week: 8)
Why has Josh Smith been extra-regular so far? I thought he was serious about that money. If he’s not, I don’t know what he’s serious about. Maybe nothing. Which would be appropriate; life, after all, is folly.
19. Boston Celtics (Last Week: 9)
I guess it’s not the most shocking development that a rotation featuring four new players (including Sullinger, a rookie) would play like total strangers in November. I just find the growth process to be tedious, is all, which is why it isn’t often that I make their games a priority. As a side note: the Simmons-fueled “Rondo for MVP” hype shouldn’t register with anyone who’s watched even a quarter of LeBron or Durant this season. I mean really.
20. New Orleans Hornets (Last Week: 15)
Greivis and Al-Farouq and Ryan are solid, but I’m starting to worry about Anthony Davis’ apparent brittleness. The Hornets have been an unreliable watch when he’s out of the line-up, and lately I find myself staying away more often than not.
21. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 18)
Lowry’s back in, and so am I. This is a different team when he’s on the floor. It troubles me that I’m not even a little excited about another player on this roster (with Jonas there’s a possibility; I need to see more) but there’s no doubt that some of their good job, good effort games - like that one point heart breaker @ Bobcats - will become wins with Kyle at the helm.
22. Utah Jazz (Last Week: 14)
I don’t think Mo Williams is a positive for this team. He’s been woefully inefficient of late and has as much to do with the Jazz’s inchoate offense as the logjam in the front court. I’m no trade wizard, but who ‘d have said no to flipping Al Jefferson for an extended Brandon Jennings and parts (Udoh?)? Utah needs a real playmaker in the worst way if they want to see the playoffs; the Western Conference is too buck for them to waste time on a rich man’s CJ Watson.
23. Indiana Pacers (Last Week: 20)
Indiana’s youth is so disappointing. To be clear, I’ve never had high expectations for Paul George. And Hibbert, while not a bum, has always had bummish tendencies. But Indiana is so helpless to score against quality opponents makes me angry, frankly, and I find myself rooting for their failure rather than risking false hope. This is a pass.
24. Chicago Bulls (Last Week: 22)
Noah running sets out of the high post is good fun. But if that’s the most dynamic element of your offense, it’s going to be pretty rough goings. Throw in the defense’s downward trend, the lousy point guard play, and Boozer’s occasional appearing act (see what I did there?), and my guess is that we haven’t reached the darkest hour before the dawn.
25. Sacramento Kings (Last Week: 23)
Someone seriously needs to create a Kings Storyline Generator. The algorithm can’t be that complicated. Player X Scores 35 Points in 14 Minutes Off the Bench - Smart Vows More Playing Time. Anonymous Locker Room Source Says Cousins is a Wild, Wild Boy. Stadium Starts Crumbling Before Terrified Fans, Then Rocket Boosts Itself to South Carolina like the Ship in Prometheus. These are the only things that ever happen.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers (Last Week: 6)
The timing of this critique is awkward, given the kid’s injured paw and all, but let me just say that Irving has disappointed me as a playmaker. His talent is clearly as a scorer - and Jesus can he score - but he’s isn’t an preternaturally gifted passer in transition or the half court. And that’s what you expect out of just about every 20 year old not named CP3, to whom the comparisons now seem dubious. In any case, it’s clear that without Kyrie the Cavs are borderline unwatchable, which is the real reason for the drop, not the preceding nitpicking.
27. Phoenix Suns (Last Week: 28)
They play opponents tough at home and Kendall Marshall is a great Twitter follow. Couple distilled truths for ya.
28. Detroit Pistons (Last Week: 26)
On the off chance the NBA tracks LP viewership by team, and on the off chance they send those figures to the Pistons, and on the off the Pistons give a shit, you should avoid watching this team until Frank gives Andre Drummond some motherfucking burn. S’all I got.
29. Orlando Magic (Last Week: 29)
It ain’t sexy, but they do manage to look like a professional basketball team on most nights. Moe Harkless is a bouncy athlete who has managed to see the court in his sophomore campaign. And these days, I can actually enjoy the occasional J.J. Redick scoring outburst, now that he’s like 40 years removed from his Duke days and gets no groupie love (I think).
30. Washington Wizards (Last Week: 30)
I don’t know if this is a moment that they’ll soon duplicate, but the Wizards running into the road locker room @ ATL, wishfully thinking they’d secured their first W on a buzzer beating put back, was the cutest thing I’d seen all day. Thanks for that, guys, and by all means keep it coming!