As we hit the midpoint of the NBA season, the top 15 of the league has been a dogfight. With several teams taking the top spot, this has been one of the most competitive seasons to date. An injury to Rajon Rondo has shaken the Eastern Conference up, but the Celtics continue to play well without him. Each team will have a pre-All Star MVP, and if you think it should be someone else explain why in the comments section.
15. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets are up there with the Lakers for the most volatile team in the league this season, the Nets went from streaking to the top of the East, to battling for a top five spot in just a matter of two weeks. In this week’s case, the Nets nearly were embarrassed by the Pistons but then faced that embarrassment against the Wizards were they only scored only 74 points. It only got worse for Brooklyn as they were dismantled by the Spurs after a great first half, one that saw the Nets up six at the break only to lose by 25. The Nets stopped the bleeding against the Pacers in an overtime victory without Deron Williams who will be out Wednesday against the Nuggets also to tend to his ankle injury.
Last Week: 11
Pre-All Star Break MVP: Brook Lopez
14. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks faced trouble against the Pacers on Tuesday night, but then they came back the night after and handled the Grizzlies by 11. Then in their other two contests of the week, they lost to the Hornets and then knocked off the Mavericks in a tight one. The Hawks seem playoff bound barring a midseason collapse, but if they continue to struggle against the better teams such as Indiana they will continue to be a first round elimination. With their struggles against contenders beginning to be exploited, Josh Smith has been linked to trade rumors with the Nets. The Nets, a team they made a trade with over the summer, does not really have the assets to make a formidable deal with Atlanta, but if they can gain some explosive, young players such as Marshon Brooks, Smith may be out of Atlanta.
Last Week: 16
Pre-All Star Break MVP: Al Horford
13. Portland Trail Blazers
Portland has been one of the most pleasant surprises to the league this year with Damian Lillard running the show and a revived LaMarcus Aldridge. Although, the Blazers honeymoon is over; the Blazers have come up short in their past three, all to teams they need to beat if they want to remain in the race for the final two spots in the West, the Mavericks, Rockets and Magic. This team is an average offense squad, but they are below average on defense, allowing two more points on average then they score, and that means this team needs to score at a high level like they have at times to win. With the likes of Aldridge and J.J Hickson in the paint, Portland isn’t slowing down anybody.
Last Week: 13
Pre-All Star Break MVP: Damian Lillard
12. Golden State Warriors
What happened to the Warriors this week? The Dubs allowed their opponents to score 118.5 points per game in their four contests this week. One of these defensive debacles was one where they allowed the Rockets to tie the record for most three-pointers made in NBA, 23 on Monday. Their awful defense, especially around the perimeter, will make many forget about their league leading three-point shooting on the season. In such a tight race in the West, the Warriors can not drop four straight, it can potentially be lethal for a team in their position. In other news, Golden State is set to be the first team in the modern era to wear jerseys that aren’t sleeveless on February 22nd with these threads.
Last Week: 8
Pre-All Star Break MVP: Stephen Curry
11. Houston Rockets
Houston kicked off week 15 of the NBA season with a record-setting performance against the Warriors where they made 23 threes en route to a 140-point performance. Although, the Rockets then dropped one to the lowly Kings in Sacramento. Rocket fans should get used to these kind of volatile weeks as that is what happens when teams live and die through the perimeter. However, this clubs leader, James Harden, has been the second best player (behind LeBron James) in the league over the past week, scoring nearly 30 points while dishing out 7 assists in their four games this week. While the Thunder have utilized Kevin Martin, the Rockets have turned Harden into a superstar overnight.
Last Week: 12
Pre-All Star Break MVP: James Harden
10. Boston Celtics
Boston continues to debunk their doubts of failure with Rajon Rondo out. The C’s were winners of seven straight going into Monday where they fell to the Bobcats. Don’t read too much into a loss to the Bobcats as the Celtics defeated the Nuggets the night before in a triple overtime thriller. Boston’s recent streak has put them right into the thick of the playoff race as they are now in the seventh position and have a game and a half up on the Bucks in the eight seed. Boston’s overtime win over the Nuggets wasn’t there only impressive win of the week as they also beat the Lakers by 21 in a game that saw them lead by as many as 30 during the game.
Last Week: 14
Pre-All Star Break MVP: Paul Pierce
9. Los Angeles Clippers
Oh the wonders Chris Paul can do for a team. The Clippers seemed very strong in Paul’s second game back against the Knicks in New York on Sunday, scoring 25, dishing out 7 assists and grabbing 6 rebounds. This came just two days after an awful performance against the Heat in CP3’s welcome back to the club, where LeBron James torched them for 30. With Paul back in the fold, the Clippers regain their form as one of the most dangerous teams in the Western Conference as it was not to long ago that this team won 17 straight and was at the top of the West.
Last Week: 10
Pre-All Star Break MVP: Chris Paul
8. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers were in the midst of a hot streak on the offensive side of the ball, scoring at least 100 in 6 of their past seven games, until their win over the Sixers that saw them get back to their defensive-first style, allowing only 69 points. There have been reports of great news for the Pacers as Danny Granger is expected to return on Wednesday against the Bobcats, but if he does not he is set for a return following the All Star Game. The one problem is the timing of Grangers return, for if he does not mesh well with the way the team is run now, they can not deal him and he could end up costing them come postseason time. However, Granger should step in and accept his role, as he is known to help the team out in any way possible.
Last Week: 9
Pre-All Star Break MVP: Paul George
7. Memphis Grizzlies
Since the Rudy Gay trade, one that has been warmly accepted by many, the Grizzlies are playing .500 basketball at 3-3. The issue with Memphis is that they have changed their offensive game plan more than initially thought. Without Gay, this team lacks a perimeter threat that could score from the outside and post defenders up. Even though Gay has not played as well dating back to last season, he does pose as a threat to teams to go off for 30 on any given night. So, the Grizzlies must find a way to build an offense without a slasher to give the ball to when in doubt to create—this is a task head coach Lionel Hollins will have trouble doing during the year.
Last Week: 6
Pre-All Star Break MVP: Zach Randolph
6. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have not shown signs that they miss Derrick Rose thus far in the season except for one facet of their game—their pace. Derrick Rose pushes the ball up the floor and makes the Bulls a threat in transition, but without him, the likes of Kirk Hinrich can not efficiently run an up tempo style of play. It is not a given that Rose will bring this kind of play when he finally returns from injury, but the thought of it makes the Bulls even more dangerous then they already are. The fact that they are a relatively, “slow” team is that they got ran out of the gym by the Nuggets 128-96, where the leagues third best defense allowed Denver to shoot 58-percent from the field.
Last Week: 5
Pre-All Star Break MVP: Joakim Noah
5. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets had a long week that consisted of four games including a back-to-back on the road on Saturday and Sunday. In these four contests, Denver beat the Bulls by 32; an impressive win that saw them shoot 58-percent from the field. However, the streaking Celtics defeated Denver in triple overtime—a game that showed Denver’s immaturity by their most mature player, Andre Miller. In the final seconds of triple overtime, Miller came down and forced a three-pointer that would have given them the lead, but he missed it and the Nuggets lost a chance to make a statement. Denver is the leading the league in transition points this year and needs to continue to make their youth a factor as they have been 9-1 in their last ten.
Last Week: 4
Pre-All Star Break MVP: Danilo Gallinari
4. New York Knicks
New York had a tough week that saw them get dominated on national television by the Clippers on Sunday which only brought back the pain of their Wednesday night loss to the Wizards. A prime reason for these losses is the fact that the Knicks allowed both their points to score more than 100 points, something they have been good at avoiding all year, as they only allow 95 points on average. Although, the Knicks are becoming to deteriorate on the defensive side of the ball and Carmelo Anthony can not score 40 points every night to try and keep this Knicks squad in games against below average opponents.
Last Week: 3
Pre-All Star Break MVP: Carmelo Anthony
3. Miami Heat
Talk about a statement week—Miami rolled through their three competitive opponents, the Rockets, Clippers and Lakers, all scoring over 100 points in the process. Although, the Heat’s dominance should be credited to one players—LeBron James. LeBron has taken his game to another level over this past stretch, averaging 31 a night during this five-game winning streak while shooting 71-percent from the field, the third man to every do that in NBA history. Besides LeBron’s greatness, Chris Andersen has been a surpassingly great pickup by Miami, for he has been a big body in the paint and has been playing in just 12 minutes a night, where he has grabbed nearly four rebounds and has a PER of 18.9 even in his limited time.
Last Week: 7
Pre-All Star Break MVP: LeBron James
2. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs continue to be a revelation of basketball as they have a core of several 30-somethings and constant injuries and still have the best record in all of basketball—so why do they fall to number two? The answer is that they lost just one game this week, a ten-point loss to the Pistons in their annual, “rodeo road trip.” With the way the top teams have been playing spots one through five are always due to change and on this week the Thunder outplayed the Spurs. Although, just because they fell do not overlook the fact that San Antonio blew out the Nets and the Bulls.
Last Week: 1
Pre-All Star Break MVP: Tony Parker
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder continued their dominating stretch, winners of five of their last six, with three wins this week by an average of 26 points. One of these impressive wins did come against the subpar Suns, but they did only allow 69 points to them, which is always impressive in the association no matter who it is against. In their three wins, Kevin Durant has not even been the primary weapon of the Thunder, Durant has not even played more than 31 minutes in these contests and neither has fellow All Star Russell Westbrook. When you are decimating the competition this badly, teams don’t need to play their superstars into the final moments of the games.
Last Week: 2
Pre-All Star Break MVP: Kevin Durant
Updated as of 2/11/13