10. Dallas Mavericks (6): Who hasn’t beat Dallas recently? With Dirk Nowitzki and Caron Butler out, the Mavs have taken quite a tumble, winning only two of their last 10 games after starting the season 24-5. When Dirk did return on Saturday, it wasn’t for long, as he was ejected midway through the third period for “talking” with official Eric Dalen.
9. Atlanta Hawks (10): Houston handed the Hawks their first loss of 2011 on Saturday night, and while they have a fairly favorable schedule until about mid-February, Atlanta is as good as they are going to be this year. There is little-to-no chance that they surpass Miami, Boston, Chicago or Orlando by season’s end. The Hawks are an athletic, fourth/fifth place team, but not much more.
8. Chicago Bulls (7): They’ve played nine games over the first 15 days of this month; however the Bulls haven’t let a arduous schedule cause them to fall. Derrick Rose is emerging as the top MVP candidate with every passing day and the Bulls are continuing to win games despite injuries. The Achilles heel for this team will be their ability to win on the road, where they are a meager 9-10 this year.
7. Utah Jazz (9): What’s scary about the Jazz is how under-the-radar they are. Many people don’t take them seriously, yet, Utah’s depth is going to make them a contender in the Western Conference. They play solid offense, defense and they win on the road; final point, the Lakers and Spurs aren’t the only two teams with a shot at still playing in June.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder (8): It’s really starting to become a difficult argument as to where the best duo in the league is located. They’re great pairs in Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago, but the NBA’s most formidable one-two punch has to be the kids Durant and Westbrook down in OKC.