1) Cleveland Cavaliers - The Cavaliers were the best team throughout the entire season, expressing dominance at home, boasting the greatest player in the game and a fantastic group of shooters that could really spread the floor. Their commitment to defense, though, is what's been the true reason for their elevation of play.
2) Los Angeles Lakers - Kobe Bryant really was in neutral all season long, letting Pau Gasol carry the brunt of the responsibility, and for that reason the Lakers are dangerous come playoff time. Now that Andrew Bynum is back, it'll be interesting to see who finishes the games in Los Angeles. With Bynum out last postseason, Odom and Gasol finished games and it looks as if Odom may very well be the odd man out this year.
3) Boston Celtics - Losing Kevin Garnett is killer if that's really true. Hopefully he comes back and the Celtics can defend their championship at full strength. Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce did a great job righting the ship this season regardless of who was out due to injury, and players like Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins, Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen as of late have really given the Celtics a nice core of young players as well.
4) Portland Trail Blazers - The Trail Blazers provided one of the most exciting seasons among any team in the league this year. Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge were the catalysts for a team that boasts just some spectacular role players and two legitimate centers. With the best home fans in the league (sorry Utah) the Blazers are poised for a tough run in this year's postseason.
5) Denver Nuggets - Chauncey Billups arriving really provided the spark this team needed to get out of their mediocre ways. A new effort on defense was shown, and Carmelo Anthony was able to, quietly, have the best season of his young career. The return of Chris Andersen, though, is the best story on this team full of characters and talent.
6) Houston Rockets - The Rockets were able to overcome the losses of Tracy McGrady and Rafer Alston with some fantastic play in the second half of the season. They're one of the better defensive teams in the league and they make up for their defeciences with an unbelievable display of effort on the court.
7) San Antonio Spurs - The loss of Manu Ginobili is critical in the postseason, but the Spurs have overcome injuries all season to all of the big three to give themselves the Southwest Division Championship. Quite a season by the Spurs when you consider all that happened to the team.
8) Orlando Magic - The Magic faded down the stretch, but still boast the game's most dominant center and a fantastic array of shooters. Hedo Turkoglu's injury is critical (as was Jameer Nelson's back in February) but the Magic still found a way to win 59 games due to their new commitment on the defensive end spearheaded by Dwight Howard.
9) New Orleans Hornets - Another team that was decimated by injuries this season. By the visual test, the Hornets really underachieved and regressed this year, but all things considered they did a fantastic job masking their weaknesses this season to get into the playoffs and put themselves in position to make a run. Health, though, could really do them in.
10) Dallas Mavericks - The Mavericks peaked at the right time, at the end of the season. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry had fantastic seasons and Jason Kidd headed a very effecient offensive group. They're fantastic at home and can really score the basketball.
11) Atlanta Hawks - Mike Woodson deserves some recognition for the job he did getting this Hawks team to build off of last season to emerge into the squad that they currently are. They have a team full of talented, unselfish players and can really make a run in the postseason.
12) Utah Jazz - Unfortuantely, one of the most talented teams in the Western Conference cannot win on the road and that simply puts too much pressure on them to win at home. Deron Williams has done it by himself the last month of the season and the Jazz have to hope they haven't exhausted their star point guard. The Jazz's decline, coincidentally, can be traced back to the return of Carlos Boozer and the shift of Paul Millsap back to the bench.
13) Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade really carried this team to new heights this season. However, the contributions of rookies Michael Beasley and especially Mario Chalmers shouldn't be overlooked, as these three give the Heat a dangerous unit heading into the postseason. Wade is head and shoulders above everyone on the team, but there's not a bunch of scrubs lacing it up with Wade.
14) Chicago Bulls - A fantastic midseason trade helped the Bulls pull of a spectacular run at the end of the season to get them into the playoffs. A bad loss at home helps people forget the fantastic basketball the team was playing en route to their run. Vinny Del Negro did a mighty fine job considering his lack of any experience coaching at any level.
15) Philadelphia 76ers - Losing Maurice Cheeks really hurt this team. I know they posted a better record without him, but they surged in last season's second half and faltered in this season's second half. Elton Brand was heavily criticized, but he'd help in the half court game they may have to play in the playoffs.
16) Phoenix Suns - A pathetic defensive display is what keeps Phoenix out of the postseason for the first time since 2004. Shaquille O'Neal had a very nice bounce back season for the Suns and it was nice to see Grant Hill play all 82 games. However, this team is a mediocre assortment of aging and average players and look to be heading in the wrong direction for the future.
17) Detroit Pistons - Who would have thought the trade that brought in Allen Iverson would have that much of an affect on this team's chemistry (besides me, of course)? The Pistons emerged as shells of their former selves this season and moonwalk into the postseason hoping to flip the switch on again.
18) Indiana Pacers - The loss of Mike Dunleavy really hurt this team, and having to reacclimate Danny Granger right in the middle of their surge to the postseason made the Pacers stumble a bit and is the biggest reason they didn't make the postseason. However, if Dunleavy can come back next year and mix well with the good draft picks this team has ,Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert, then the Pacers (my presseason pick for the 8th seed) can make a run at the playoffs next season.
19) Milwaukee Bucks - Richard Jefferson emerged as a really solid player this year. He's always been good, but holding this depleted squad in playoff contention for as long as they did speaks wonders for Jefferson and still underrated coach Scott Skiles. They have quite the find in Ramon Sessions and this team is headed in the right direction with the right offseason moves.
20) Charlotte Bobcats - The Bobcats made a push for the postseason before faltering down the stretch. However, looking at the players that they acquired simply for the playoffs, this is no longer a team on the rise. They have good, young players but they have a mixture of solid veterans as well. There's no excuse for them to not make the postseason next year.
21) New York Knicks - Mike D'Antoni's refusal to play defense kept the Knicks out of the playoffs this year. David Lee, Nate Robinson and Wilson Chandler emerged to become fantastic players for New York and it's nice to see Madison Square Garden care again. The moves they make this offseason will be critical to the future of this team.
22) New Jersey Nets - They had a great first half to the season, but their lack of raw talent came back to hurt them as the season progressed. Vince Carter did a great job as the leader of this team, but he is the most likely candidate to be moved this offseason for New Jersey. They have to like what they saw from Devin Harris and Brook Lopez this year, and this is a team headed in the right direction.
23) Golden State Warriors - Injuries to Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins and Corey Maggette this year didn't help matters this year and if you couple that with the fact that the Warriors were the youngest team in the league, their record shouldn't come as a surprise to you. However, this team is really talented and with the right seasoning could be poised for another playoff run next year or the year after. They still could use a true point guard.
24) Toronto Raptors - Unfortunately, the acquisition of Jermaine O'Neal and the midsesason trade of O'Neal for Marion did nothing for the Raptors postseason hopes. Chris Bosh, after a hot start, had a really average finish and Jose Calderon did not elevate his game as expected following the big contract. This is a team that has a very interesting offseason approaching them, but they have to like the improvement of Andrea Bargnani this season.
25) Oklahoma City Thunder - Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and company give that fantastic fan base a lot of hope for the future. They're another big man and, possibly, a legitimate shooting guard away from the playoffs as early as next season. Keeping interim coach Scott Brooks was the right thing to do, as well, seeing as how that team responded to him at the end of the year.
26) Minnesota Timberwolves - Losing Al Jefferson killed their season, as before that Minnesota was really starting to play solid basketball. I still don't know how they're going to play Kevin Love and Jefferson together, but Jefferson and Randy Foye give Minnesota a nice one-two combination for the future. Mike Miller was a huge dissapointment this season, and Minnesota should look to make a few moves in the offseason including finding something to do with Miller.
27) Memphis Grizzlies - O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley have the Grizzlies heading in the right direction. They still didn't take the step forward that I was expecting from them, but they showed moments of cohesiveness. If they can somehow land Blake Griffin, this team will be set to really leap forward next season. However, Rudy Gay didn't progress as much as what was to be expected this season, and he needs to bounce back next season.
28) Washington Wizards - Injuries ruined this team but unfortunately, they're not very talented even when healthy. This is a team heading nowhere in a hurry with all of the money they have tied into Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. The Wizards are probably going to give it another run next season, fully healthy, but I wouldn't expect anything more than a possible appearance in the postseason.
29) Los Angeles Clippers - Expectations and an insurgent of talent in Clippers couldn't keep the Clippers from being the Clippers this season. Everyone on the team missed significant time due to injury, and they never meshed as a unit. Even though they have fantastic individual pieces, you have to wonder if this team will work well as a unit at all. They'll probably get another shot next season.
30) Sacramento Kings - Kevin Martin, Spencer Hawes and company should be embarassed at the effort put up in Sacramento this season. The lack of talent on the team cost a good coach, Reggie Theus, his job and Martin couldn't do much to salvage any kind of hope for even next season. This team is a long way from any kind of contention and they have holes at every single position on the floor. It doesn't look good for a struggling franchise, and it's a shame to see all of those empty seats at Arco Arena on a nightly basis.