1. Oklahoma City Thunder (Last Week: 1)
OKC has a stretch of high-profile games this week, kicking off with Christmas day @ Miami, followed by home vs. Dallas (plus Dirk!) and @ Houston on Saturday night. They never no-show these games. Be excited.
2. Houston Rockets (Last Week: 13)
Sometimes I have an opinion, like “James Harden is the best shooting guard in the league, ” and I feel like have to couch it by saying something like “unless it’s the playoffs, in which case I got Kobe” or “after a healthy Wade,” just so you people don’t treat me like a reactive 12 year-old. But eff it. Harden is the best 2, without qualification, which is a big reason why Houston is back on must-watch status.
3. New York Knicks (Last Week: 5)
Who’s more physically dominant at their position than Melo right now? Silence, I know what position LeBron plays. I also know that defenders don’t literally jump on his back to prevent him from scoring around the basket, which is what the Timberwolves resorted to last night at Madison Square garden. To no avail.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves (Last Week: 19)
I’m so ready to love this team as much as the rest of the internet. But, for the time being, Love can’t stay on the court and Rubio’s minutes cap has made it hard for him to get into a rhythm. Nonetheless, the Timberwolves’ home win against OKC was one of most fun games this season, and they gave the Knicks all they could handle, so I fully expect to be worshiping this team like the rest of you three weeks from now.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (Last Week: 6)
While I would love to see a real opponent appear on their schedule one of these weeks, the Clips are getting good mileage out of these blowouts by shamelessly clowning terrible squads. Case in point, CP3 threw an alley-oop to Bledsoe in the waning moments against Sacramento (the Cousins meltdown game) that I don’t think he’d have tried against Memphis, San Antonio or OKC. I believe that deep in my heart. But because it was the Kings and their pride is of no concern to anyone, they went for it. It’s hilarious.
6. Miami Heat (Last Week: 3)
Frankly, I don’t know what to do with this team. The regular season obviously means nothing to them, so it’s tough to take anything away from the W’s and L’s. And now that Wade’s back on track you can’t even watch for the lulz. Verdict? Small demotion based on the utter lack of story lines.
7. Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 16)
Golden State, take note: THIS is how you handle an injured star. Under-promise on the rehab timeline, and then watch your fans squeal in delight when they read those two magic words: SURPRISE RETURN.
8. Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 2)
It looks like Lakers hate will be a dream deferred, y’all. They haven’t been terrible lately, which takes a lot of the fun out of this for me, particularly if Nash, at age 39, is now merely competent as opposed to magical. Nobody wants watch this team old-man ball its way to a 45 wins. Spite-infused demotion!
9. Memphis Grizzlies (Last Week: 8)
Houston punked these guys by putting a small lineup around Omer Asik and challenging Marc and Zach to run in the open court. If there’s a formula for beating this team, that’s probably it, and I look forward to seeing how they adjust now that the “word” is out.
10. Golden State Warriors (Last Week: 9)
Dropping them a little because Saturday night’s loss against the Lakers left a bad taste in my mouth. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fantastic game, but Curry was about as undisciplined as I’ve seen him in a long while, which set the tone for the entire offense. Maybe they need to get back out on the road, because in their own building, these last two games, these guys have been trying to create signature moments rather than just playing ball.
11. San Antonio Spurs (Last Week: 7)
Tell me something — why shouldn’t old skinny Duncan be included in the fake MVP conversation that features more than two players? We all pat him on the head for playing great ball for a 36 year-old, but give them man his real due: he’s been the best PF in the game this season, and I don’t think it’s close.
12. Charlotte Bobcats (Last Week: 4)
What’s the argument for playing Byron Mullens big minutes? It isn’t front court scoring; he gets all his points on the perimeter. It isn’t to showcase for a trade; he hasn’t helped his trade value with these 5-for-19 shooting outings. To say Mullens is the reason the ‘Cats suck now would be reductionist, but come on: this fool is really effing things up right now, and they don’t have to let him. I’m frustrated.
13. Denver Nuggets (Last Week: 14)
They’re back on track after weathering the league’s toughest schedule through the first 20 games. I don’t quite know what, if anything, this team is great at (it’s not shooting or slashing, surprisingly), which means their prospects are limited in my eyes. But I’m nonetheless hyped to see how they perform with the difficulty setting on “medium.”
14. Milwaukee Bucks (Last Week: 10)
This is a genuinely fun team to watch that gets overlooked in large part because Skiles’ brand as a boring coach is so strong in these streets. Don’t miss out because you’re stuck in 2006. Larry Sanders, in particular, is worth your time if you miss the buck-wild Serge Ibaka who would try to block every shot into the stands.
15. Brooklyn Nets (Last Week: 12)
In the absence of a bad Lakers team, this Deron Williams feeding frenzy might be the best thing us hate mongers have to work with. Ugh. Lean times for hate.
16. Indiana Pacers (Last Week: 18)
Paul George has really come into his own, blood. It’s like he realized all at once that he’s the best athlete at his position in the league and can impact every play, on both sides of the ball, if he sets his mind to it. It’s a thing of beauty.
17. Portland Trail Blazers (Last Week: 25)
“Dame” Lillard (which is what he calls himself apparently) keeps closing games, Nic Batum is back on the court and dropping statistical anomalies and LMA has been LMA. That awful bench means they’re always a hair’s breadth from a bad stretch, but I’m enjoying these guys a whole lot at the moment.
18. Atlanta Hawks (Last Week: 15)
Let me describe my shortcomings as an analyst: I see a team like Atlanta, which is exceeding expectations, features an exciting front court engine of Smith and Horford, and has the ability to blow out any team on any given night, and all I can think is that we’re six months removed from Miami or NYK beating the juice out of these guys in the second round of the playoffs, the inevitability of which kills my interest. My problem, not theirs. Mine.
19. Detroit Pistons (Last Week: 11)
GotDAMN Lawrence Frank did some serious tap dancing on the issue of Drummond’s minutes. It’s like he’s saying everything he can to talk some crazy fan out of waiting for him in the parking garage. GOOD.
20. Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: 17)
The trade winds are blowing and everyone’s available except Jrue, apparently. Shaking things up would be a wise move for a Philly front office that clearly doesn’t think Bynum will ever lead this team (and he won’t).
21. Boston Celtics (Last Week: 21)
I can’t believe they’ve gotten nothing out of their role players. I mean nothing! JET, Sullinger, Green and Lee. I wasn’t a fan of any one of them going into the season, but not in a million years did I think they’d all be garbage. This doesn’t look good. This doesn’t look good at all.
22. Utah Jazz (Last Week: 20)
I feel like they could be in trouble with this Mo Williams injury. The Western Conference playoff picture isn’t to be trifled with, with the Lakers, Timberwolves and Mavericks all returning big names to the court and the Rockets flat-out balling. Because I’m a 12 year-old, I’m going to make one player responsible for keeping this team afloat. Eenie meenie minie… Gordon Hayward. Hayward’s got to score more for them to stay on the map.
23. Chicago Bulls (Last Week: 22)
Let’s pretend MVP isn’t a two-man race between Durant and LeBron (it is): Is anyone more deserving of that third rung on the ladder than Joakim Noah? He anchors the Bulls’ top two defense. He’s their best playmaker on offense. He’s playing ungodly minutes for a big. That an all-star selection isn’t a given seems criminal; he’s been that good this season.
24. Sacramento Kings (Last Week: 24)
They get a prohibitive bump because I’d like to see this team play without Cousins sucking all the energy out of the building for a change. I can’t defend this guy any more. Please, Coach Smart. Realize Isiah Thomas is the best thing you have going for you and see what he can do with the BoogieReke-less roster, if only for a game or two. What do you possibly stand to lose?
25. Cleveland Cavaliers (Last Week: 29)
Why bother catching feelings for Kyrie again? He’s just going to be shelved as soon as you get used to having him around again.
26. New Orleans Hornets (Last Week: 23)
Robin Lopez is quietly anchoring this frontcourt while Anthony Davis learns to play in the NBA. Which I digs. Still and all, I miiiiight just wait until Davis ripens on the vine a bit before I put much time into watching this team.
27. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 27)
What does it mean that they went on a five game win streak the moment Lowry went down with (another) injury? Someone please tell me because I don’t watch Raptors games on television.
28. Orlando Magic (Last Week: 28)
Sad. They were due a bump before the Big Baby news broke. I feel like I’m in the twilight zone for saying this, but they really needed that guy to stay in the playoff hunt.
29. Washington Wizards (Last Week: 26)
They’re going to kill Beal’s career by playing him 40 minutes a night and asking him to create everything for himself and others. And no one will hear his screams so long as RG III is balling.
30. Phoenix Suns (Last Week: 30)
For a while there they looked like they were making a run at respectability. It’s a 3-man draft in 2013, fellas. You really need to cut that shit out.