10. Atlanta Hawks (8): If this were five or six years ago, the Hawks would be one of the premiere teams in the Eastern Conference with a real shot at the NBA Finals. Unfortunately for them, the East actually has more than two decent teams now, leaving the Hawks in the middle of the pack.
9. Dallas Mavericks (11): A six-game losing streak mid-month really derailed the Mavs from their course, but since, have won five of their last six and looking more like the team that started off the season 24-5. Injuries will prevent the Mavs from making any kind of run at the Finals; however, they will still be a competitive team in the West down the stretch.
8. New Orleans Hornets (9): Let’s be real here; the Hornets were not going to keep that winning streak alive for much longer. Past their top four of Paul, West, Okafor and Ariza, the Hornets have nobody on their squad that should be among the top seven players on any competitive roster. They might make the playoffs as a top-four seed, but they will be gone fishin’ by the end of round one.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder (7): Russell Westbrook is great. Kevin Durant is even better. When you combine the two stars, they form an unstoppable duo. Although the dynamic duo has been helping out on the glass, the Thunder still desperately need some help inside. Serge Ibaka is coming along nicely, but if the Thunder want to contend with the Spurs and Lakers, they need a big, strong body to balance out the finesse game of Jeff Green down low.
6. Orlando Magic (5): Although it came in a nine-point loss to Chicago, Dwight Howard’s 40 points was huge for the Magic moving forward. If they can start getting more offensive outings like that from him, Orlando is going to be a very tough team to knock off. No one in the NBA will be able to stop Howard inside and contain the Magic’s lethal weapons from beyond-the-arc. That’s impossible.