10. Portland Trail Blazers (8): Marcus Camby is back, Gerald Wallace is in the fold and Brandon Roy is slowly progressing to a point where he might be helpful once again. For the Blazers, who have been slapped silly with injuries these past few years, they have been battling like warriors through it. If things start to go right for them in the health department, the rest of the West better watch out, because they could easily sneak into the conference finals.
9. Atlanta Hawks (11): At this point, Atlanta falls into a similar category to Orlando and New York; meaning, they are a very talented and efficient team, but they just don’t possess the wholeness or star power of a Boston, Miami or Chicago, to propel them much further than the second round. They are a fairly deep team, but a lack of defense is always a deal breaker for any team looking to knock of one of the elite.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (6): It’s terrible to see the Broingtons break up before they were able to do some major damage together in the Western Conference, but adding Kendrick Perkins to their front line is going to be a huge boost for the Thunder when they take on the Spurs, Lakers and/or Mavs come playoff time. I don’t know if this puts them over the hump just yet, but it sure doesn’t slow them down in that regard.
7. Orlando Magic (7): They’ve been one of the most consistent teams this season, however, they just haven’t been consistently good enough to leapfrog into the discussion of the top-teir teams in the league. Dwight Howard may be superman, and the Magic might be capable of shooting lights out from three, but they just don’t have a lockdown defender on the perimeter to keep LeBron, Pierce and Carmelo under wraps.
6. Miami Heat (3): They are out of the top-five for the first time in awhile – not because they are playing bad, but due to the fact that the NBA’s elite are playing so well right now, someone had to take the backseat. Even if LeBron is continuing to assert himself as possibly the most dominant player to ever touch a basketball, no team can be successful with three guys accounting for 68.6 percent of its points on a nightly basis.