1. Cleveland Cavaliers (2) - The Cavaliers rallied for an impressive win against Miami today and remain the only team this season to be undefeated at home. They hold home court admirably and they also are getting fantastic play out of Mo Williams lately. This team is playing a consistent brand of basketball, and although the assortment of players and the list of victories doesn't blow you away, they are the hottest team so far this season and they play fantastic defense and win basketball games at home. Those are three qualities of great teams.
2. Boston Celtics (1) - I know with two losses this week you could make arguments about them falling behind either Orlando or the Lakers, but they still have the best record in the league and last week people were questioning when exactly this team was going to lose. They had a tough western swing but the Celtics are still the best team in the league. I think it would be entirely irrational to drop them too far down the list.
3. Orlando Magic (3) - The Magic are the second hottest team in the league right now and are frequently blowing teams out of the arena. That performance against New Orleans on Christmas day was impressive. Getting Mickael Pietrus back from injury is going to help this team immensely in the near future. They continue to perform at a high level regardless of doubts concerning their ability to consistently perform at this level. Currently, they're at this level so I can't drop them.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (4) - The Lakers gained an emotional and emphatic triumph over Boston on Christmas day in one of the most anticipated regular season games in recent memory. Kobe Bryant, as of late, has been playing near his MVP level from last season and the Lakers have to love what they're getting out of players like Sasha Vujacic as of late. They've seemed to turn the corner on the difficult stretch that they seemingly were having and inner turmoil over their defense had to be addressed with that performance against Boston. They clearly are the best current team in the Western Confrence.
5. Atlanta Hawks (6) - Joe Johnson is playing at an amazing level currently and this Hawks team is clicking on both sides of the basketball. Their quick start has proved to not be a fluke as they continue to play great basketball even going into January. The team may lack true depth at the point guard position, but Johnson runs the offense so much that it masks that problem. Overall, Mike Woodson has this team playing at an unbelievable level.
6. San Antonio Spurs (10) - Tony Parker has elevated his game to an unbelievable level this season. His offensive game is as polished as any point guards in the league. That shot from Roger Mason was huge on Christmas day and Tim Duncan is quietly having an unbelievable season. Matt Bonner has really slowed as of late, and as a result I look for the Spurs to look for some inside scoring around the trade deadline. Knowing them, they'll find a team to give them an outcast and I look at Eddy Curry (don't laugh) as being someone who could fit in good with the Spurs. But they need another force in the paint to take some pressure off of Tim Duncan.
7. Denver Nuggets (9) - The team played great basketball without Carmelo Anthony in the lineup and then carried it over with a big win at Madison Square Garden today when Carmelo returned. This team continues to stay around the top and are getting fantastic production out of J.R. Smith as of late. Kenyon Martin has shown flashes of the player we all loved in New Jersey as of late but it's a shame that a lot of his explosiveness has limited him. He had the potential to be a really, really good player in his career.
8. Portland Trail Blazers (7) - They're getting production out of Brandon Roy, but they have to love the contributions they're getting night in and night out from players like Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw and Joel Przybilla as those types of role players are what help a team become a consistent threat night in and night out.
9. New Orleans Hornets (5) - Their performances against Los Angeles and Orlando revealed they still have not yet turned that corner and become a really good team. They're still playing maddingly inconsistent basketball but Peja Stojakovic and Antonio Daniels returned this week and that is reason enough for optimism in New Orleans.
10. Houston Rockets (8) - Ron Artest has been great off of the bench since his return from injury and I look for the Rockets to continue to play him at that spot. Tracy McGrady has been really inconsistent this season and continues to be in and out of lineups with nagging injuries. It's a shame he could indirectly ruin the best chance the Rockets have had at a championship since Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen were wearing Rockets uniforms.
11. Dallas Mavericks (12) - The Mavericks are playing tremendous basketball as of late and have gotten past that slow start to develop into a fun, cohesive unit. That suspension for Dirk Nowitzki is laughable but it didn't stop them from being the lowly Clippers. I know Jason Kidd's numbers are down, and he's not the player he once was, but I feel as if he's delivering so far this season for Dallas. No he's not the player that Devin Harris is but he's done a fine job keeping this team together this season and they're slowly getting healthy as well. The Mavericks have played above expectations so far this season and it'll be intersting to see them continue to try and do so.
12. Utah Jazz (11) - Injuries to Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, Mehmet Okur and Paul Millsap have held this team back and they've still yet to field a consistent and healthy squad for an extended period of time so that we can fairly evaluate the legitimacy of this Utah squad this season. Overall, I believe Jerry Sloan has done a fantastic job keeping this unit at where they're at even though they can't get continuity in the lineup.
13. Phoenix Suns (13) - The Suns had one game this week and lost it but they played strongly against the Spurs on Christmas day. They're winning games and at this rate will put up a soild record for the season but they don't seem to have any sort of spark to them this season that makes them feel like a legitimate threat to a team in a seven game series. Amare Stoudemire, for all the talent that he posseses, is becoming a quiet 20 point 8 rebound guy and you never want to fall into that category.
14. Miami Heat (14) - A tough loss at Cleveland is the only problem the Heat have experienced the past couple of weeks. Their defense keeps them in every single game and they find ways to hang around and win ball games. Jamaal Magloire would be a nice boost to this team if he could ever get consistently healthy but I don't know if that's in his capabilities any longer.
15. Detroit Pistons (15) - The Pistons found ways to beat bad teams this week and it's still a step in the right drection. They've been around .500 since acquiring Allen Iverson but they've still got time to right the ship and become a threat come the postseason. But looking at the energy of this squad, you have to wonder if they will.
16. New Jersey Nets (18) - The Nets still refuse to go away. Devin Harris and Vince Carter, night in and night out, carry this squad and keep them playing at a competitive level. Brook Lopez has done a fine job and has settled in nicely at the starting center position but I think this team still lacks the overall talent to stay in the playoff race all season long. But they've exceeded expecations so far this season so it's not outside of the realm of possibility for this team to stay at this level.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (17) - The Bucks continue to stick around regardless of a lack of fanfare or consistency. Michael Redd has struggled a tad this season and Richard Jefferson's game has dropped a bit as of late but Andrew Bogut has done a great job keeping this team afloat. I'd also like to give some kudos to Charlie Villanueva for being voted the world's sexiest bald man, giving the Bucks their first player to win an award in the past couple of decades. Congratulations!
18. Chicago Bulls (16) - This squad, much like the team in Utah, continues to deal with inconvenient injuries and have not yet fielded a consistently healthy squad. Everyone can't seem to get cohesive on this team because of the injury problems. Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon have done a great job of keeping this team together but overall they are a perimeter based squad and unfortunately, when shots don't fall they have no shot of victory and that won't hold up all season long.
19. Philadelphia 76ers (19) - I've been wanting to say it the past few weeks so I will give credit this week, Marreese Speights has done a great job this season, especially in the recent absence of Elton Brand. Andre Iguodala has shown flashes of the player that he was last season but overall he and this squad have vastly underacheived this season.
20. Memphis Grizzlies (23) - I wonder what happened to Marc Gasol to see his minutes being reduced as the season has progressed. Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo are nightly constants for this young squad and they finally have a sense of direction in Memphis for the first time since the first season they made the playoffs in 2003-2004.
21. Golden State Warriors (24) - The Warriors had a very impressive victory over Boston this week that was quickly forgotten after their performance against the Lakers tonight. Stephen Jackson has been playing better as of late but this team still misses Monta Ellis. Corey Maggette was a questionable addition when he signed with Golden State and word is the Warriors are listening to offers for the swingman. His contract may make it hard for him to be moved, but I don't believe it's going to work for him in Golden State.
22. Charlotte Bobcats (25) - Emeka Okafor has played great as of late, giving the Bobcats a consistent threat at the center position that they've lacked majorly this season. Boris Diaw gives him a body to work with down in the paint and Raja Bell has finally picked up his play after being traded from Phoenix. They're playing good, hard basketball at the moment and still have time to salvage the season by making a late season push for the playoffs.
23. Toronto Raptors (26) - The Raptors, mainly spearheaded by Jermaine O'Neal, responded in a big way this week after that dreadful previous couple of weeks that they played. This team still is a question mark as to whether or not they're going to right things this year but there's no denying how tough it's been to get a grip on this team.
24. New York Knicks (20) - The Knicks were never known for their defense even before the arrival of Mike D'Antoni, but the laziness on the defensive side of the ball has quickly spread in that locker room and has since grown to become a laughable ailment for this team. The team doesn't even try to guard you, which is what keeps them from pulling potential upsets over better squads.
25. Indiana Pacers (22) - The Pacers have yet to really get it together this season and after spending all season waiting for them to do so, I've finally come to the conclusion that it just may not happen. Mike Dunleavy has started to become more active after missing all season due to injury but I believe it's outside of his capabilities to turn this season around in Indiana. I said Brandon Rush would be a rookie to look out for this season and in turn he's played very underwhelming basketball this season.
26. Los Angeles Clippers (21) - The Clippers are such a Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hide squad. You have no idea if they're going to be competitive or susceptible to being blown out. They've recently given minutes to raw project DeAndre Jordan as of late and you have to wonder what that spells for oft injured but extremely talented center Chris Kaman with the now recently crammed frontcourt in Clipper land.
27. Sacramento Kings (27) - Their offense is so anemic without Kevin Martin in the lineup and I'm tired of waiting for him to come back and make this team competitive again. It has to be dissapointing that after such a strong season last year this team has played at the level it has this season, but injuries and inconsistency within the organization can derail a team on the rise and that's exactly what's happened to this identity-less team.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves finally got a victory for coach Kevin McHale this week but still lack any true power on their squad. Rashad McCants and Ryan Gomes are two pieces of this team that would truly flourish on better squads but they basically serve no purpose for this horrible team. If you look at the current roster, you can't even say that they're rebuilding. They don't have any young projects in place aside from Al Jefferson. They're just an assortment of bad players.
29. Washington Wizards (29) - Now that Caron Butler is injured (and we all saw that coming), Antawn Jamison is all alone now as far as options for the Wizards. He was good enough for a victory over Oklahoma City but there's not much more he can do for this squad. He's played unbelievable basketball but it will and should go largely unnoticed around the league because this franchise is so poorly operated.
30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - I looked at the Thunder playing Joe Smith at the center position with concern but after looking at the level of center play around the league, I guess it's a gamble for the worst roster in the league. Nick Collison's injury obviously doesn't help matters but for the most part it really doesn't matter. I don't see Joe Smith (who would be a nice fit in San Antonio) or Desmond Mason finishing February in Oklahoma City jerseys.