Tag:Sasha Vujacic
Posted on: May 26, 2010 3:07 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 3

I figured since I didn't do a playoff preview this season for each team as I did last year, I'll do a fun little countdown to this year's draft, since that's where my team is going to be instead of the postseason.  Well we're getting down to the nitty gritty now in terms of the countdown.  With only three drafts remaining, I went into a lot of due diligence to research and review each draft before putting in this submission.  I feel as if I was wrong in a few of my early seedings in this draft and I wanted to really try as hard as possible to make the top five as acurate as I feel it could be.  I think I've done that now.  Coming in at number 3 in our countdown is the 2004 NBA Draft which actually featured a hot pre-draft debate on who would be drafted number one and a pretty good group of players in general.  So here goes it loyal readers, number 3 on our countdown!

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21869382

#9: 2007 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21895619

#8: 2006 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21928696

#7: 2001 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21957208

#6: 2002 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21979856

#5: 2009 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22042511

#4: 2008 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22065028

#3: 2004 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Orlando Magic - Dwight Howard, C, Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy
2) Charlotte Bobcats - Emeka Okafor, C, UConn
3) Chicago Bulls - Ben Gordon, SG, UConn
4) Los Angeles Clippers - Shaun Livingston, PG, Peoria High School
5) Washington Wizards - Devin Harris, PG, Wisconsin (traded to the Mavericks)
6) Atlanta Hawks - Josh Childress, SF, Stanford
7) Phoenix Suns - Luol Deng, SF, Duke (traded to the Bulls)
8) Toronto Raptors - Rafael Araujo, C, BYU
9) Philadelphia 76ers - Andre Iguodala, SF, Arizona
10) Cleveland Cavaliers - Luke Jackson, SG, Oregon

Not a bad group of guys coming in at the top ten.  Going into the draft, it was largely rumored that Orlando would take established college star Emeka Okafor and that the expansion Charlotte Bobcats would take high schooler Dwight Howard and they'd grow as a franchise and player together.  However, Orlando felt Dwight's talents were too good to pass up and they eventually made the right choice.  Howard has become an perennial all star in this league and is already a two time Defensive Player of the Year award winner and already the best center in the league.  Okafor, meanwhile, has turned out a nice little defensive career himself, although he's nowhere near the caliber player that Howard is.  Ben Gordon took the league by storm his rookie season, showing explosive offensive talents and eventually becoming the first rookie in NBA history to win the Sixth Man of the Year award.  Livingston was viewed as some to be the "next Magic Johnson" when he was coming out of high school.  A great athlete with fantastic court vision, Livingston actually struggled to put together consistent stretches of success before severely injuring his knee in his third season in the league.  After going up for a routine layup, Livingston landed awkwardly and tore the ACL, PCL and the lateral meniscus while badly spraining his MCL and dislocating his patella and tibia-femoral joint.  He has struggled to stay in the league since, but he showed some late signs this season in Washington and will probably get another look there next season.  Harris was a lightning quick guard out of college and became a nice change of pace for Dallas during the year they went to the NBA Finals.  He eventually struggled over a definitive role in Mavericks coach Avery Johnson's system, and he was eventually traded to the Nets where he became an all star.  Childress was a really solid player for his four years in Atlanta, and started a short fad in the 2008 offseason that consisted of average NBA players going to play overseas for big money.  He may return to the NBA in due time, though.  Luol Deng has shown a lot of promise in his short career with the Bulls, but injuries and inconsistencies haven't allowed him to truly take that next step, and there's still some resentment towards the Bulls management giving him a big contract instead of Gordon, who eventually left to go play for the rival Detroit Pistons.  Aaraujo was a horrible bust from the very beginning, as Toronto was criticized for drafting by need and reaching for a player who was projected as a mid to late first round pick.  Araujo was lost out on the court and was out of the league by 2007.  The same can be said for Luke Jackson, a really solid scorer in college who was looked to be a coveted three point shooter for Cleveland.  However, Jackson couldn't do much other than shoot and never got on the court.  He last played in the NBA in 2007 as well.  The Sixers found a nice player at 9 in Iguodala.  A freakish athlete in college, he's been able to develop a semblance of a jump shot (even if he relies way too much on it) and is the current face of the 76ers franchise. 

11) Golden State Warriors - Andris Biedrins, C, Latvia
12) Seattle Supersonics - Robert Swift, C, Bakersfield High School
13) Portland Trail Blazers - Sebastian Telfair, PG, Lincoln High School
14) Utah Jazz - Kris Humphries, PF, Minnesota
15) Boston Celtics - Al Jefferson, PF, Prentiss High School
16) Utah Jazz - Kirk Snyder, SG, Nevada
17) Atlanta Hawks - Josh Smith, SF, Oak Hill Academy
18) New Orleans Hornets - J.R. Smith, SG, St. Benedict's Prep
19) Miami Heat - Dorell Wright, SF, South Kent Prep
20) Denver Nuggets - Jameer Nelson, PG, Saint Joseph's (traded to the Magic)

As you can tell, by this draft, the whole concept of jumping from high school to the pros had become quite the phenomenon, as by the top 20, eight players that were drafted were high school seniors.  Biedrins, not being one of them, has become a nice player for Golden State, fitting in perfectly with their system although he seemed to take a major step back this season due to some serious confidence issues.  But he has the ability to overcome those.  Robert Swift continued Seattle's trend of "draft a center and see what happens," and nothing happened.  He was constantly injured and never showed much promise when on the court in the first place.  Telfair was a lauded prospect coming out of school and his family ties to Stephon Marbury and friendship with LeBron James created a stir over his potential talents.  However, he's never been able to stay in a rotation and has struggled thus far in his NBA career.  Humphries has managed to stay in the league as a nice hustle player and is currently playing for hte Nets.  Al Jefferson showed some promise in Boston and was eventually the centerpiece in the trade that brought Kevin Garnett to the Celtics.  He's become a great scorer for the Timberwolves but not much more and has suffered with injuries of his own the last two years.  Snyder was a fantastic athlete who had a good year with the Hornets following his rookie season with the Jazz, but fizzled out of the league by 2008 and is now serving a three year jail sentence for a home invasion.  Josh Smith took awhile to put all of his talents together, but the hometown Atlantan has become one of the most exciting players in the league and a nice building block of the future for Atlanta.  J.R. Smith had a terrific second half to his rookie season in New Orleans, but quickly clashed with coach Byron Scott and was traded to Chicago for Tyson Chandler.  Chicago then immediately traded him to Denver, where he's shown flashes of being a terrific scorer but is still every bit the immature head case he was for his two years with the Hornets.  It's taking awhile, but Wright just may be coming into his own as a nice reserve rotation player for the Heat.  Nelson, meanwhile, was the college player of the year and his story of falling down in the draft clashed with the number of high school players that were being chosen.  Nelson eventually ended up with Orlando where he became their starting point guard and has since emerged into an all star player. 

21) Utah Jazz - Pavel Podkolzin, C, Russia (traded to the Mavericks)
22) New Jersey Nets - Victor Khryapa, SF, Russia (traded to the Trail Blazers)
23) Portland Trail Blazers - Sergei Monia, SG, Russia
24) Boston Celtics - Delonte West, PG, Saint Joseph's
25) Boston Celtics - Tony Allen, SG, Oklahoma State
26) Sacramento Kings - Kevin Martin, SG, Western Carolina
27) Los Angeles Lakers - Sasha Vujacic, SG, Slovenia
28) San Antonio Spurs - Beno Udrih, PG, Slovenia
29) Indiana Pacers - David Harrison, C, Colorado

It was pretty cool to see three consecutive Russian players drafted in the first round.  However, not one of the Russians turned out memorable careers.  Podkolzin only played six games in two seasons with the Mavericks and was out of the league by 2006 while Khryapa and didn't fare much better.  Khryapa became a starter in Portland by his second season, but was then traded to Chicago and was out of the league by 2008.  Monia continued the hat trick and only played 26 games in the NBA before expressing a desire to return overseas after not cracking a rotation in the NBA.  West and Allen became nice players for Boston during their short time there.  West showed a penchant for coming up in clutch situations and his versatility at either guard position has allowed him to become a nice role player for Cleveland.  Meanwhile, Allen's defense and athletic ability have allowed him to stay in Boston (even through their bad years where they got rid of, almost, everybody) and he's become a great reserve for a solid team this season.  Martin was an explosive scorer in college and has become the exact same in the NBA, although injuries have limited his effectiveness the last two seasons.  Vujacic was a wild shooter who struggled his first three seasons in the leauge, finally put it all together in 2008 (a contract year) and was resigned to a big deal, and has now gone back to struggling.  Udrih struggled to stay on the court for San Antonio and eventually wound up in Sacramento, where he's found a home as the team's starting point guard the last seasons.  Harrison was another really talented prospect, but his off the court issues and immaturity were a theme for some troubled Pacers teams at the time and he was out of the league by 2008.

Round Two Notables:
30) Orlando Magic - Anderson Varejao, PF, Brazil (traded to the Cavaliers)
37) Atlanta Hawks - Royal Ivey, PG, Texas
38) Chicago Bulls - Chris Duhon, PG, Duke
43) New York Knicks - Trevor Ariza, SF, UCLA

A couple of really solid second rounders here.  Varejao has become a really popular player in Cleveland and, even if overpaid, is an important rotation player for some successful Cleveland teams the last few seasons.  Ivey is a defensive point guard who's managed to stay in the league thus far and even started some for Atlanta.  Duhon was a great back up in Chicago but struggled when given starter's minutes in New York.  His future in the league is uncertain.  Meanwhile, Ariza struggled to stay on the court in New York and Orlando due to injuries and inconsistency, but was eventually traded to the Lakers where he struggled with injuries again before becoming the team's starting small forward when they won the championship in 2009.  He parlayed that into a nice contract with the Houston Rockets, where he's currently their starting small forward.

Notable Undrafted Players
Damien Wilkins, SF, Georgia - Signed with the Seattle Supersonics

I mention Wilkins because he's managed to stay in the league thus far.  Nephew of NBA Legend Dominique Wilkins, Damien has stuck in the rotation for some playoff teams in Seattle and is still playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves today. 

2004-2005 NBA Rookie of the Year: Emeka Okafor
All Stars from the 2004 NBA Draft: Dwight Howard, Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson

2004-2005 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Emeka Okafor
Dwight Howard
Ben Gordon
Andre Iguodala
Luol Deng

2004-2005 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Nenad Krstic (who was originally drafted by the Nets in 2002 before finally signing in 2004)
Josh Smith
Josh Childress
Jameer Nelson
Al Jefferson

Posted on: June 1, 2009 1:13 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2010 2:43 am
 

Previewing The 2009 NBA Finals

After correctly predicting the NBA finals in my review of the conference finals, I find it important that I hurry aboard to try and keep up my good name by predicting the NBA Finals.  In all honesty, I couldn't be happier with this matchup.  Not only did I pick it, these, in my opinion, are the two best teams that the NBA could offer at this point.  Both of these teams have faced adversity.  Both have taken shots in the media and Stan Van Gundy and Pau Gasol have been the most critiqued figures in the media since the postseason started.  But how did they get here?

The Magic stumbled at the end of the season, coupling blowout losses with an injury to Hedo Turkoglu and really entered the playoffs on a sour note.  Furthermore, two of their first three games of the postseason they lose to the 76ers on fantastic last second shots by Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young.  However, with the team down 2-1 in Philadelphia and with the game tied, Hedo Turkoglu came through with the biggest shot this season for the Magic, nailing a three in the final seconds to tie the series at two apiece.  After Dwight Howard was suspended for game six in that series, the team really came together and played their most complete game of the postseason, winning and exiling Philadelphia in six games.  The defending champion Boston Celtics came next and the Magic, again, were dealt a crushing loss in game 4.  With the Magic up 2-1, just seconds away from taking a commanding 3-1 lead, Boston forward Glen Davis nails a terrific shot and the series is tied.  The Celtics went on to win game 5 and all looked lost for Orlando.  But display the stuff that champions are made of, Orlando took care of business at home in game 6 and then crushed Boston on their home court in game 7.  By the time the Conference Finals came around, the Magic had already seen everything anyone could throw at them.  So when the Cavaliers jumped out to 20 point leads three different times in this series, it should not surprise that Orlando came back in all of them because they've never displayed a lack of effort out on the court.  Thoroughly exposing and defeating the Cavaliers, Orlando now is making it's second finals appearance in franchise history but is looking for their first championship.

The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most storried teams in history.  In the present tense, they're probably the most talented team in basketball.  That's what makes it so frustrating when you see how they coast from time to time out there on the court.  Now making their 30th appearance in the NBA finals in franchise history, the Lakers' road was just as rocky but was more publicly ridiculed than Orlando's.  After defeating the Jazz in five games, the Lakers faced off against the Houston Rockets in what turned out to be a brutal, physical battle.  After Yao Ming got injured and the Lakers took a 2-1 series lead, it looked like all was lost for Houston.  But the Lakers allowed the depleted Rockets to blow them out two more games before the Lakers took the series in seven games.  After letting Houston take them to seven, the Lakers were suddenly everyone's favorite team to hate and people wrongfully bashed them before their series with the Nuggets.  Aside from an embarassing game 4, the Lakers genuinely played good, complete basketball against the Nuggets, including an impressive game 5 and a mind blowingly convincing game 6 in order to get the team to the finals.  Kobe Bryant looks to win his fourth NBA Championship, his first without Shaquille O'Neal, and bring Phil Jackson his 10th, which would put Phil alone atop the list of coaches with championshp rings. 

How do these teams match up and who has the advantage in what area?  That will now be addressed.
Western Conference Champion: (1) Los Angeles Lakers (65-17) vs. Eastern Conference Champion: (3) Orlando Magic (59-23)

Why The Lakers Will Win: The Lakers hold the advantage of having the best player in the game on their side.  Kobe Bryant proved in the Denver series that he is still capable of going above and beyond the call of duty in order to ensure that his team wins that elusive championship.  With an extremely talented roster, the Lakers are capable of throwing many defenders at the Magic and are athletic enough and talented enough to give Orlando fits on defense, something that Philadelphia did but that Boston and Cleveland really couldn't.  In that lineup to guard Orlando, the Lakers could also score very efficently as all of the players on the court are capable of scoring from different spots on the floor.  The bench has been really hit or miss for Los Angeles, but usually either Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar or Luke Walton will come up big one game or another.  They usually have at least one player each game stand tall.  It would help if all of them could get on the same page, but the current formulat hasn't crippled them.  Trevor Ariza will be huge in this series, as he has been all postseason, because finally there is a player whom Orlando will face that can guard Rashard Lewis.  With Ariza being tall, athletic and even strong enough to stay in front of Lewis, Lewis may have a hard time.  Lewis has had a tendency to show up in spurts for Orlando and Ariza can really contain those spots.

Why The Magic Will Win: The Magic can't be criticized for a lack of effort or be accused of coasting at all this postseason because they're not talented enough to do that and they haven't faced competition where they can get away with it.  As a result, for nineteen excruciating games, the Magic have had to go out and battle for four quarters.  Public perception would tell us that means the Magic could be exhausted by this point but I truly believe that those battles are the best experience a team can have entering the NBA Finals.  Well prepared now for any situation they could possibly experience, the Magic have shown that they can jump out on you for a big lead, come back on you if you have a big lead, win close games, handle tough losses and still stand tall throughout all of it.  They have the most unguardable player in the series in Dwight Howard.  The Lakers don't play Andrew Bynum often and he's been such a foul machine all postseason that I can't imagine him getting more than 12-15 minutes a game in this series.  That leaves Pau Gasol in the game against Dwight more often than not.  When that happens, Gasol's lack of strength in addition to wanting to avoid foul trouble will allow Howard to have a field day down in the paint.  The Magic could run into trouble if Phil goes to foul Dwight whenever he's around the basket, and the Lakers have the bodies to do that, but Stan Van Gundy has been the best at adjustments in this postseason and he can find a way to have Dwight be quicker with decisions with the basketball.  When Howard kicks it out, all of the Magic shooters have proved capable of hitting big shots.  The Magic are lucky to have two terrific on the ball defenders in Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee, and if those two can give Kobe Bryant fits then the rest of the Lakers have not proven they can carry Kobe.  Kobe has carried this team all postseason long, and if the Magic can make Kobe struggle then they will reap the benefits.

Key Player for the Lakers: Lamar Odom is going to be huge for the Lakers.  Because the Magic play such a small lineup, he will find himself matched up with both Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis on both sides of the court throughout the game.  However, his versatility at the power forward position allows the Lakers to be able to match and still be effective against the Magic's unorhodox lineup.  He's been battling a back injury all postseason, but has shown flashes where he hustles, goes after loose balls and really makes it look effortless on the court.  At this level and with him being a player capable of going out to guard Lewis while still also being a force on offense, Odom cannot afford to revert back to his inconsistent quiet ways.  If he plays a huge series the Lakers will undoubtedly come out victorious.

Key Player for the Magic: Rafer Alston has been really hit or miss this entire postseason, as well, but when he's been on, the Magic have won.  Point guards have given the Lakers trouble all postseason and Alston isn't the most talented player at his position, but is a quick and smart player at the point guard position.  His shot has been really streaky and sometimes he takes ill advised chances on the offensive side of the basketball, but if can keep his head in the game and knock down open jump shots then he can be a huge difference maker for the Magic.  Derek Fisher has had a hard time on defense this postseason and has struggled with his jump shot, so this is a prime opportunity for Alston to take advantage of that and thoroughly outplay Fisher.  If he does that, then the Magic will have the advantage to the championship.

Prediction: Lakers in six.

Key As To Why They Will Win: Home court is huge here for Los Angeles.  In the 2-3-2 format, the road team has more of an opportunity than they have at any other level of the postseason.  However, although both teams have shown they're more than capable of winning big playoff games on the road, the Lakers role players play at a different level in Los Angeles.  As a result, the fact that they have more home games is crucial.  Kobe Bryant is going to be effective and consistent in this postseason, and having Trevor Ariza's versatility on both offense and defense this season will hide some of the holes that the team had in last season's finals with the Celtics.  Dwight Howard will severely take out Pau Gasol on both sides of the court, but Odom will be able to take advantage of either Lewis or Turkoglu's struggles on the ball defensively. 

Conclusion: This series is genuinely tough and could go either way.  I look at both squads and I'm happy that they're both here.  They're both experienced in tough situations and are the two most talented teams in the league.  The Magic get the bill as underdog just because the eleminated LeBron James and are facing the star studded Lakers, but they're not some cinderella team that is running on borrowed time.  Dwight Howard is going to be unstoppable in this series but his penchant for foul trouble is a reason why I went against Orlando.  With him being the only sure advantage for Orlando, he's going to be in high demand all series long and needs to be effective at all times.  If players drive it to the basket and get him in foul trouble, and if the Lakers continuously send him to the foul line, that's going to disrupt the Magic flow and really will take them out of this series.  Orlando's had a great run, but I feel as if the intelligence has finally caught up to the talent for the Lakers and I look for them to take advantage of being here for a second straight season.  I've picked them all year and I'll pick them now: the Los Angeles Lakers will be our 2009 NBA Champions.

Posted on: March 24, 2009 11:46 pm
Edited on: March 24, 2009 11:47 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

Previous Team: Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with the team with the best record in the Western Conference: the Los Angeles Lakers.

Strengths:
This team boasts arguably the best player and the best coach in this league in Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson respectively. Between the two of them, twelve championship rings suggest that both of these men know what it takes to win in the postseason. Kobe Bryant continues to quietly carry this squad and hopes to win his 4th NBA championship. The biggest strength for this Lakers team is the way that they play offense. Kobe leads a squad that includes Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom and company to form one of the most active, fluent offenses in the league. Watching them pass the ball to the open player and seeing them get easy baskets is a thing of beauty and when they're clicking on offense there isn't a team that can stop them. Kobe orchestrates it all, of course, and is the anchor for possibly the best offensive unit in the league

The Lakers also throw two fantastic man defenders at you in Trevor Ariza and Kobe Bryant.  Their defense as a real is hit and miss, but in crucial situations when they need to get a stop, they can rest knowing that they have two of the best that can at least slow down the opposing team's best wing man in critical times.  Another thing that helps the Lakers is their sense of continuity amongst one another.  This is a confident bunch that feeds off of the (I mean this in a good way) arrogance of their team captain.  Kobe Bryant's never say die attitude feeds over to the team and they can really feed off of that. 

Weaknesses:
They had such a strong bench at the beginning of the season and now look as if that second unit could pose some sort of problem.  The Lakers don't have that much of a problem with injuries, but the one big one they've had, Andrew Bynum, forced Lamar Odom to move into the starting lineup and set off a chain reaction of moves which included Luke Walton being placed back on the bench for Trevor Ariza, Vladimir Radmonovic being traded to the Bobcats and Jordan Farmar struggling to return from his knee injury early in the season.  The bench looked unstoppable at the beginning of the season, but Sasha Vujacic has really struggled this season, they don't have a backup big man outside of Josh Powell and they can't consistently sustain any type of lead.  That's cause for concern and may force the Lakers to play their starters huge minutes in the postseason.

Also, their defense is very inconsistent and always seems to pose a problem at inopportune times.  Especially on the road, the Lakers really struggle to get a groove on the defensive side of the ball which puts a lot of pressure on the offense.  The Lakers are very weak inside the paint which encourages a lot of players to simply play hard down in the paint on them.  We saw it in last season's NBA finals, Pau Gasol isn't stopping anybody around the basket.  Andrew Bynum is the best down low threat that they have on defense, and with his knee injury you don't even know if he'll be at enough strength to make much of a difference.

Why They Will Win It:
There probably isn't a more determined player this season than Kobe Bryant.  As of right now he looks poised, confident and hungry and that should really carry this team into the postseason.  They've already ran away with the Western Conference and I believe last season's dissapointing showing in the finals should really have a positive affect should they get there this season.  They are a very cohesive and fluent group that has a star player and coach who have won numerous championships throughout their illustrious careers.  Outside of Kobe, Derek Fisher and Phil, they really don't have any championship experience.  But you don't read that in their swagger.  They truly believe that they can win it.

Why They Won't Win It:
Until Andrew Bynum shows that he can, for 82 games a season, consistantly be a threat down in the paint then that will always be a lingering issue for the Lakers.  Add to the team's inconsistencies (especially in Lamar Odom's play) and a few bad games could really hurt this team the further they go into the postseason.  Defensively they have their moments, but they really need to dedicate themselves to the defensive side of the ball if they're going to take home the championship.  Even if they are to take home court, psychologically that's an advantage but all it takes is one loss and the rest of the team may start to doubt themselves.  An overreliance on Kobe could be a problem in the postseason, because everyone outside of Fisher dissapeared in crucial moments in last season's finals series.

Conclusion:
The Lakers have their fair share of problems, but they still have that one player on that team who everyone wants to go to war with.  In crucial situations, Kobe Bryant will carry this team.  They should win easily the first couple of rounds, but when the playoffs get thicker and teams that play a more physical brand of basketball remain, the Lakers need to show that they can play physical with these squads.  Offense isn't always going to cut it.  But as of today, they should be the favorites for a return trip to the NBA finals.

Coming up next: the Boston Celtics.

Posted on: December 29, 2008 1:45 am
 

NBA Power Rankings Through December 28, 2008

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 BrandAndre 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 EllisCorey 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.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com