10. Los Angeles Lakers (33-31, Last Week: 8): The Lakers drop here not because of a lack of progression, but rather because some of the top tier teams with solid records have shaken off poor play and regained their stature. Additionally, I caught some flack for placing the Lakers so high and above the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets last week despite the fact that both were ahead of Los Angeles in the standings. However, I stand by those rankings as I felt the Lakers had more momentum than both teams, and lo and behold, Kobe Bryant willed his team ahead of the Utah Jazz in the standings.
Additionally, the Lakers have gone 8-2 since the All-Star break and Kobe is playing some of the best basketball of his career; even putting on a couple of vintage performances including some ridiculous clutch play last week. Bottom line: The Lakers are going to make the playoffs and no team wants to face them in the first round–especially not with Kobe Bryant playing at the level he is. Oh, and he and Dwight Howard are playing well off of each other and Steve Nash is still as deadly as ever offensively.
9. Brooklyn Nets (37-26, Last Week: 13): The Nets won all three of their games last week, including a 42-point performance by point guard Deron Williams as the Nets defeated the Wizards, 95-78.
8. New York Knicks (38-22, Last Week: 10): The Knicks have won six of their last eight games, but the two losses came against the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. Additionally, Amar’e Stoudemire is set to have knee surgery and could be out for six weeks.
7. Indiana Pacers (39-24, Last Week: 6): The Pacers went 1-2 last week, with the two losses coming against Eastern Conference contenders in the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. After being dubbed as a team who could challenge the Heat with their versatility, the loss quietened those assertions. Danny Granger’s inactivity due to a sore left knee certainly doesn’t help, either.
6. Los Angeles Clippers (45-20, Last Week: 4): The Clippers are still playing at an extremely high level, but they lost to the Denver Nuggets–a potential playoff opponent–on Thursday in a 107-92 loss. However, the Clippers blew out the Detroit Pistons 129-97 on Sunday at home. Unfortunately, DeAndre Jordan may miss some time as police have filed charges on him for the murder of Brandon Knight.
5 (Tied). Memphis Grizzlies (42-19, Last Week: 5): The Grizzlies have won 12 of their last 13 games; their only loss coming at the hands of the Miami Heat. Showdowns with the Clippers on Wednesday and the Nuggets on Friday should either determine exactly which of the three is currently the best team or prove that the three are extremely evenly matched.
5 (Tied). Denver Nuggets (42-22, Last Week: 7): The Nuggets have won eight in a row and are virtually impossibly to defeat at home with a 28-3 record. Victories over the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Los Angeles Clippers during the stretch boost the Nuggets here. A victory over the Grizzlies on Friday would certainly place the Nuggets above the Grizzlies should both teams continue to play at a high level.
3. San Antonio Spurs (48-15, Last Week: 2): With Tony Parker injured and the Spurs just one game ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio could legitimately see the number one spot in the West slip away from them.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (47-16, Last Week: 3): Having won eight of their last nine games, the Thunder are licking their chops at the possibility of surpassing the San Antonio Spurs for the number one spot in the West.
1. Miami Heat (47-14, Last Week: 1): The Heat have won a franchise-record 18 games in a row, and are absolutely dominating right now.