By: Joe Manganiello and Dave Holcomb
1. Oklahoma City Thunder: Aside from Friday’s one-point loss to Orlando, Oklahoma City has been reeling off win after win sans Russell Westbrook, going an NBA-best 12-3 over their last fifteen games. With Kevin Durant taking pole position in the MVP debate, and Serge Ibaka playing like an All-Star – it really is too bad that Ibaka couldn’t make it in the crowded Western Conference – the Thunder are the best team in basketball even without their Olympian point guard.
2. Indiana Pacers: The game’s best defensive team (Pacer opponents are scoring a league-low 94.5 points per 100 possessions against them over the last 20 games) is known to have inconsistent production on the offensive end. Even still, when Indiana can find 37 points from George Hill and another 30 points from David West in an overtime battle against the playoff-bound Portland Trailblazers, we think they are fine, and that Paul George and Roy Hibbert will manage better than the 22 percent shooting from the field they managed on Friday.
3. Houston Rockets: Houston has won 10 of 13 in large part to their ridiculous offense, scoring 109 points per 100 possessions (just below Miami’s league-high 109.5). They are also improving on the defensive end: When Dwight Howard has been on the floor over this stretch, Houston is allowing 101.5 points per 100 possessions – which isn’t perfect – but is respectable for a team that plays as fast as Houston does. Since the new year, Houston has the best defensive efficiency of any team averaging at least 97 possessions per game.
4. Miami Heat: As mentioned above, Miami’s best offense is simply the best offense in the game. On Wednesday against the Clippers, the Heat began with a fury of crisp passes and easy buckets; they won the first quarter, 36-24, on 69.6 percent from the floor. Their defense is falling by the wayside during this middle portion of the season, but we know all too well what can happen when Miami is clicking on that end.
5. Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin has been dominating opponents since the injury Chris Paul suffered last month, and with their array of shooters and DeAndre Jordan leading the Association in rebounding, the Clippers are a legit contender.
6. Portland Trailblazers: Just a few mental errors away from taking a huge win in Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday, Portland’s performance on national television might distract some from what’s been undeniably a rough stretch. They are 10-8 in 2014, and are only eleventh in offensive efficiency over that stretch, behind teams like the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks. They are virtually allowing the same number of points as they are giving up per 100 possessions in the new year, a stat that critics of their average-at-best defense will label an indication they are not actual contenders yet. We shall see. Until April, let’s applaud what this team has done so far and be happy that we will OD on Damian Lillard during the All-Star weekend.
7. Memphis Grizzlies: No team in the West has been stingier on defense since Marc Gasol returned to the starting lineup for Memphis, and with Mike Conley having a career-best season, Grit-and-Grind is more than equipped to make another playoff run.
8. San Antonio Spurs: Injuries have begun to pile on for the Spurs, which was foreseeable considering how many basketball games this relatively-old nucleus played last year. They have lost 6 of 11, and are giving up over 103 points per possessions over that stretch – which is even worse considering they are playing the seventh-slowest pace in the league, per NBA.com. Getting healthy again is the remedy, and it’s unclear if they can maintain the No. 2 seed for much longer without their full rotation.
9. Dallas Mavericks: They have been the game’s most efficient offense (115.7 points per 100 possessions – WOW) over their last fifteen games, netting a 10-5 record – three of their losses were against Western contenders (Clippers, Trail Blazers, Rockets) and the others were road games on the East Coast. The Mavericks, largely because of the Dirk Nowitzki and Jose Calderon, are leading the NBA in true shooting percentage over that stretch.
10. Brooklyn Nets: How they have done it is complicated, but Brooklyn is 13-7 over their last 20 games, and are playing inspiring defense.
Here are the rest of the rankings. Enjoy the weekend. Peace, love, recycle and ball.
11. Golden State Warriors
12. Phoenix Suns
13. Chicago Bulls
14. Washington Wizards
15. Toronto Raptors
16. New Orleans Pelicans
17. New York Knicks
18. Denver Nuggets
19. Atlanta Hawks
20. Minnesota Timberwolves
21. Charlotte Bobcats
22. Orlando Magic
23. Detroit Pistons
24. Utah Jazz
25. Boston Celtics
26. Cleveland Cavaliers
27. Sacramento Kings
28. Los Angeles Lakers
29. Philadelphia 76ers
30. Milwaukee Bucks