1. Los Angeles Lakers (4) - Rejoice, Los Angeles! The beloved Lakers have reclaimed their top position. The hottest team in the NBA is boasting one of its hottest players in Kobe Bryant. As of late, Kobe and Pau Gasol have elevated their play to around the level they were at around the postseason last year. The bench is getting good production even with Jordan Farmar missing time with his injury. I don't believe adding another point guard is critical for the moment but it wouldn't hurt if they could land one for cheap.
2. Atlanta Hawks (5) - The Hawks suffered a crushing loss with a near halfcourt heave at the buzzer from Vince Carter at New Jersey. That was only their second loss in twelve games. Victories over Cleveland, Denver, Houston and Detroit highlight that stretch and prove that this team is not a flash in the pan. I'm sure they won't maintain this level of competition all season long as the team is largely unproven, but don't try to dispute what they've accomplished so far this season. Not only is this team legitimate, they're talented.
3. Boston Celtics (2) - And just like that, with a loss to a depleted Portland team and to a bad New York team (coming off a week in which they lost their first game in forever in addition to a loss to a bad Golden State team) and the Celtics all of a sudden look vulnerable. I'm not going to jump off of the bandwagon and say that they're cooked, it's not a matter of if but when this team rights the ship and gets back to playing the defense that made them impossible to beat through November and December. Kevin Garnett has slowed a bit so far this season and Paul Pierce has had to carry this unit for basically the whole season. The role players have also slowed a tad, which is the main reason for the team's struggles but they'll get it back together and they'll still be there in the end.
4. Orlando Magic (3) - Something doesn't quite seem right with Hedo Turkoglu this season. All of his statistics have dropped from last season and his field goal percentage is at a laughable 38 percent. That's either meaning he's struggling to do too much in a contract year, or maybe last season was more of an aberration for the turkish born star. Overall, the Magic have been solid all season long and if he captures the form he showed last season then they'll be right up there at the top of the eastern confrence.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (1) - Rejoice, Cavs haters! Zydrunas Ilgauskas has gone down to injury and the Cavaliers dropped two games this week, including an embarassing defeat at the hands of Washington today. For at least a week anyways, the team looked like last season's team, which relied entirely too heavily on LeBron James. What's happened to Wally Szczerbiak this season? He's the definition of a non factor, and with his expiring contract, if he showed any bit of production they could get a really good player in return for Wally World. But so far his value is worth about the same as Eric Snow's.
6. San Antonio Spurs (6) - Manu Ginobili had a huge week for the Spurs. Greg Popovich has done a fine job with his roster and has seemingly settled on a nice rotation. Tim Duncan is having the best year he's had in the past two or three and Tony Parker is currently playing like their best player. They're a dangerous unit and they're going to be there in the end, regardless of their difficult start.
7. Denver Nuggets (7) - Carmelo Anthony played hero on two separate occasions for the Nuggets this season, even if they were underwhelming in barely defeated Oklahoma City and blowing a 26 point lead at home to New Orleans. An injury to Nene for the Oklahoma City game showed no immediate hamper on the Nuggets, but if he misses any prolonged period of time they're in bad shape. They lack serious depth in the frontcourt.
8. New Orleans Hornets (9) - They still lack the consistency that they showed for so much of last season but Chris Paul is playing the best ball of any player in the NBA. The fact that he's not up there with Kobe Bryant in all star voting is unbelievable and truly speaks to the knowledge of the average NBA fan. David West has really picked up his game as of late and don't look now, but the Hornets rank among the league's best at the defensive side of the ball.
9. Detroit Pistons (15) - I've ridden no team as hard this year as I have the Pistons, but Rodney Stuckey has resurrected what was a dead season for Detroit after the Allen Iverson trade. The readdition of Antonio McDyess is as much a factor as any in the team's current winning streak and even though they may not be blowing teams out, victories are victories and the Pistons are winning ball games.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (8) - Playing without Brandon Roy hurt this team this week as they looked bad against New Orleans and the Lakers. Overall, they managed to pull out a victory against Boston and they're still playing hard even without Roy in the lineup. McMillan will never let this team play a weak game but they can't win without their all star guard in the lineup.
11. Dallas Mavericks (11) - Today's loss at Memphis was embarassing but Dirk Nowitzki has carried the Mavericks to a very strong season thus far. They're a team of wing players and that will doom them in the playoffs, but they will exceed any expectations they were given this season. Rick Carlisle has done a really good job with the Mavericks this season.
12. Phoenix Suns (13) - Shaquille O'Neal is having his best year since his last year in Los Angeles for Phoenix and the team is maintaining a steady play so far this season. Jason Richardson hasn't added much since his addition, but the team continues to win so his presence alone must be enough for the Suns to get by.
13. Utah Jazz (12) - Word of Carlos Boozer now needing surgery has to demoralize this squad even with Paul Millsap playing as fantastic as he has this season (I forgot to mention him in my most improved players list last week). The C.J. Miles experiment has worked well with him playing so steady this season. He's never going to be more than an average starter in this league but he's solid enough to where the Jazz can continue to use Andrei Kirilenko on the bench, which has worked very well for them so far this season.
14. Miami Heat (14) - An injury to Shawn Marion has thrusted Daequan Cook into the starting lineup and I think with a shipping of Marion and his expiring contract at the deadline, that can be a nice spot for Cook. Michael Beasley has been underwhelming so far this season but has shown flashes of being a nice player in this league. It's safe to say that he was a tad overhyped coming into the draft, though.
15. Houston Rockets (10) - Tracy McGrady's play this season has been absolutely pathetic. He's beyond bad at this moment and Yao Ming is shooting a percentage in the low 40s the past few games as well. With Ron Artest in and out of the lineup as well, this team is currently in a great deal of turmoil and it's evident when you watch them out on the court. Aaron Brooks has tailed off considerably since his start this season but the talent is still there for this team to turn it around. You just have to wonder if their players are tough enough to do it.
16. New Jersey Nets (16) - They're incredibly inconsistent and continue to be without a victory when Devin Harris is out of the lineup, but the Nets still, week after week, find themselves in the picture in the NBA. Vince Carter has had his fair share of last second theatrics this season and that's been a major reason for the Nets' position at the moment. They have to wonder if a postseason appearance is worth a possible run at a championship in the next two or three seasons when it comes to Carter, but we'll see what it is they're offered for Vince.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (17) - The Bucks are a team that's so difficult to put a finger on, because they have no player who's consistently great every night and they don't really scare you in any facet of their play. Yet they've been near .500 all season long and they're still in the playoff race thus far. That speaks wonders for Scott Skiles, even though I'm confused at his reluctancy to give Ramon Sessions big minutes. I've seen an increase in Tyronn Lue as of late and I don't believe he's better than Sessions.
18. Toronto Raptors (23) - Two weeks ago the Raptors were left for dead, and since then they've had a very impressive past two weeks. Chris Bosh has found the form he displayed earlier this season and the team is winning ball games without Jermaine O'Neal and Jose Calderon in the lineup. Anthony Parker has been a steady player at the shooting guard position and the Raptors have found themselves back in the discussion as far as the playoffs are concerned. It's a nice turnaround for a team that I wrote off just two weeks earlier.
19. Philadelphia 76ers (19) - If you were to look up the word "bland" in the dictionary, you would see this team's photo right beside it. Their play hasn't inreased without Elton Brand (even though I thought it would) and maybe they are what they are, a below .500 team that can't score and that isn't even that special on the defensive side of the ball. It seems like the two years of momentum that was built up by this squad was ruined with possibly unfair expectations with the Elton Brand acquisition.
20. Chicago Bulls (18) - A loss at home to Minnesota highlights a woeful week for the Bulls which was heightened even further with a horrible showing by Derrick Rose. Ben Gordon deserves serious all star consideration this season beyond the three point shootout and he's been the team's steadiest, most consistent option thus far. That probably is why they're down here at 20, but he deserves a little bit of credit after the way he was blasted and treated this offseason. He may, yet, see his big payday this offseason.
21. Indiana Pacers (25) - Mike Dunleavy is set to debut this week for the Pacers and that should help a team that still is looking to make a run at sneaking into the last playoff spot. Danny Granger has been tremendous this season even in the dissapointing year for the Pacers and Jarrett Jack has been tremendous since being inserted into the starting lineup as of late. T.J. Ford has done fine off of the bench but you have to wonder if he's the type of player that would be content with coming off of the bench.
22. Charlotte Bobcats (22) - I still can't speak enough for Boris Diaw's play since coming over from Phoenix. This Bobcats team has raised its level of play since that trade and currently has shown that they can be a pesky bunch to put away. Adam Morrison, on the other hand, is now officially ready to be labeled as a bust. He was a horrible selection as a 3rd overall draft pick (don't even get me started on Sean May). Little known Matt Caroll is better at what Morrison does than Morrison is and that's why Morrison scored for the first time in six games Saturday night. I still remember when Dick Vitale said we were all stupid for saying J.J. Reddick and Morrison wouldn't be great in the NBA.
23. Memphis Grizzlies (20) - Darius Miles made his debut this week for the Grizzlies and Steve Francis may be set to dress up anytime soon. It's amazing that those two players found their way onto the Grizzlies roster, but it's safe to say both are in dire need to prove that their careers aren't over in the NBA.
24. New York Knicks (24) - The Knicks have lost all of the good will they built up with a strong opening to the season, but still continue to play hard for coach D'Antoni. Al Harrington off of the bench has payed huge dividends as of late, including a victory today over Boston. David Lee has been tremendous this season and if they package him with a contract of Jerome James or Eddy Curry they can get another building block for the rebuilding of this proud franchise.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves got back to back victories for the first time all season and got Mike Miller back from injury. Still, though, a lot is left to be done in Minnesota in order to get this team back to respectability. Kevin Love has been inconsistent in his performance this season and doesn't look like a great acquisition by Kevin McHale (and nobody honestly believed he would be) but I think, with the investment they made in him, that he needs to be shown more minutes as the season progresses.
26. Los Angeles Clippers (26) - Baron Davis, in addition to his pathetic displays on the court this season, caused controversy with a recent report of his wanting to return to the team he shafted just five months earlier. His homecoming has been nothing short of brutal but the team has got to be happy with the play of Marcus Camby and Eric Gordon as of late. They look like a team capable of hanging in tough games as long as Davis doesn't continue to shoot them out of ball games.
27. Washington Wizards (29) - The Wizards, with a run over Cleveland today, move out of the bottom two for the first time all season. Getting Caron Butler back this week has been good for the Wizards and the increase in minutes for Javaris Crittenton is a solid move by coach Tapscott. Andray Blatche has been a nice spot for what's been a dreadful season thus far and the Wizards are now starting to play harder each and every night. It's not going to amount to any kind of success this year, but it's a far cry from the team that regularly would get beat by 20 every night just a couple months prior.
28. Golden State Warriors (21) - With Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette now publicly speaking about trade requests the horrid season for the Warriors has now reached rock bottom. The dissapointing performance has taken a back seat to the fact that the group of players that they've assembled has now made the franchise one without any kind of positive direction. It's tough to be a loyal Warrior fan, and this season is a perfect explanation of why that's so.
29. Sacramento Kings (27) - Kevin Martin came back this season and looked fantastic in his return and Brad Miller has been a steady force all season for Sacramento, but they still continue to lose. This team looked like a team with a direction this season, but so far this season hasn't shown anything other than that they're a team without much talent or direction. It's tough to see what the future holds for this franchise.
30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - The Thunder are really playing good basketball as of late and I wanted to move them out of the last spot for the first time all season, but can't justifiably do so. Jeff Green, this season, has looked like a player that was worthy of the draft slot they used on him and Kevin Durant have played at a very high level as of late. They're playing with more intensity than they did earlier in the season and have showed signs of a team that's on the right path as of late. That's good for that loyal fan base.