Remember early in the season, when it looked like the Cavaliers' acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal had bogged down team's offense and doomed to LeBron James to a season of hellfire and underachievement? Yeah, that was this season. The Cavaliers are now riding an 11-game winning streak, have won 26 of 30 and, most importantly, have overtaken the Lakers for the top spot on the Prospectus Hoops List. Now the concern in Cleveland is whether LBJ and company have peaked too early, as seemed to happen last season. If the myriad trade rumors floating about regarding Cleveland hold any water, perhaps Danny Ferry can keep things more fresh this time around.
(Statistics through Feb. 7)
1. (2) Cleveland Cavaliers (61.0 / 34.6%) [ 64 / 60 / 54 ]
Rankings: NET: 1; OFF: 3; DEF: 3; PACE: 26
When you look at the way the Cavaliers have played over the last couple of weeks without two of their best guards (Mo Williams and Delonte West), you get the feeling they could pull Austin Carr out from behind press row and not miss a beat. Not as long as the "L-Train" is "Taking it to the House." Come to think of it, my idea might make it easier to watch the Cavs on League Pass. The team is playing so well that I'm half-concerned that adding Amare Stoudemire or Antawn Jamison will only muddle things, but I had similar thoughts about the Cavs' precious chemistry at this time last year.
2. (1) Los Angeles Lakers (60.2 / 29.8%) [ 61 / 58 / 53 ]
Rankings: NET: 4; OFF: 10; DEF: 5; PACE: 9
As the season goes along, the Lakers are gradually climbing the rankings in Offensive Rating, while losing a few spots in Defensive Rating. Through it all, L.A is right on schedule, but that's not going to remain the case if Kobe Bryant's ankle doesn't get right ... or so you'd think. The Lakers have won by a combined 29 points in their two games sans Kobe against the Nos. 11 (Spurs) and 12 (Blazers) teams on the Hoops List. In those two wins, Ron Artest showed that if the Lakers need him to step up from the supporting role that he's held down this season, he's more than ready.
3. (3) Atlanta Hawks (55.3 / 5.6%) [ 53 / 54 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 6; OFF: 5; DEF: 13; PACE: 25
There has been some discussion about whether or not Al Horford deserved to be Atlanta's second All-Star after Joe Johnson instead of Josh Smith. It's a tough call. I'd have given it to Smith, but you really couldn't go wrong either way. Smith's much-publicized improvement in shot selection has not just resulted in a much better field-goal percentage, but it's also made him an effective passing power forward in the mold of Kevin Garnett or Chris Webber. When you add his defensive ability, the blocks, the rebounds, the steals ... it's such a rare combination of skills.
4. (4) Orlando Magic (54.7 / 8.1%) [ 54 / 55 / 49 ]
Rankings: NET: 3; OFF: 11; DEF: 2; PACE: 15
The Magic keeps tantalizing its fans with flashes of greatness, only to slip in a stinker just when you think it's all coming together. Orlando is showing signs of latching onto the second seed in the East, though there is still a lot of hoops left to play. Vince Carter's 48-point explosion on Monday was tremendous, but it also masked the fact that the Magic had to overcome a sizable fourth-quarter deficit on its home floor to beat New Orleans, which was playing without Chris Paul. Orlando has won six of seven, but the loss was on its home floor to Washington. Orlando is still finding its way.
5. (7) Utah Jazz (54.0 / 4.9%) [ 51 / 54 / 53 ]
Rankings: NET: 7; OFF: 8; DEF: 10; PACE: 14
The Jazz have a huge back-to-back in the L.A. teams to finish out the All-Star break. On Tuesday, Utah visit the Clippers, then return home to face the Lakers on Wednesday. The smoking hot Jazz could head into the All-Star break on a 11-1 tear and be bearing down on the Nuggets for the second seed in the West. Still, the Jazz have 19 of its last 31 games on the road. However, those 31 games come against the softest group of opponents any team in the West has left to play. So are the Jazz contenders or aren't they? This is what Kevin O'Conner must decide before next week's trade deadline.
6. (5) Denver Nuggets (53.3 / 4.8%) [ 54 / 53 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 8; OFF: 4; DEF: 15; PACE: 5
The Nuggets are doing a fair job of treading water in Carmelo Anthony's absence, but face a pair of key games to close out the pre-All-Star portion of the season. Dallas and San Antonio will be visiting Denver and if things don't go well, the Nuggets could find themselves tied with Utah for second in the West. The top priority for the Nuggets in their attempt to hang onto that second slot will of course be to get Anthony and Chauncey Billups healthy. Beyond that, another big man is going to be needed. Nene and Kenyon Martin have logged big-time minutes and George Karl has shown zero interest in using Malik Allen or Renaldo Balkman in any significant role.
7. (6) Boston Celtics (52.5 / 6.2%) [ 53 / 56 / 56 ]
Rankings: NET: 2; OFF: 12; DEF: 1; PACE: 23
The Celtics are 12-13 since Dec. 18, leading Doc Rivers to make the obvious-but-honest statement that Boston has fallen behind Altanta, Orlando and the Lakers. (He strangely didn't mention Cleveland, but that was likely just an oversight.) The Celtics have their starting lineup back intact, but that didn't help much against Orlando on Sunday. The Magic went on an epic 36-11 tear in the third period of that game that left the Celtics looking pretty stunned. Time may be running out on this incarnation of the Cs if any of the Ray Allen trade rumors turn out to be true.
8. (8) Dallas Mavericks (50.9 / 2.2%) [ 50 / 47 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 10; OFF: 9; DEF: 11; PACE: 20
The Mavericks' comeback win over shorthanded Golden State Monday helped slow down a miserable stretch for Dallas that had seen the Mavs drop four of five before the game against the Warriors. The Mavs are a ho-hum 10-10 over their last 20 games and I could see them drop down the West ladder pretty quickly. Dallas' 13-5 record in close games is a bit of a red flag, as is the fact that the Mavericks are the league's oldest team. As Dallas gradually slides, it's incumbent upon Donnie Nelson to help find some fresh legs for this bunch, preferably a long wing player with a defensive presence.
9. (11) Phoenix Suns (49.9 / 0.8%) [ 48 / 47 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 11; OFF: 1; DEF: 29; PACE: 3
What a yo-yo of a season it's been in Phoenix. First the Suns jump out to an 8-1 start that has everybody talking about a return of the Second Seconds or Less days. Then a long, gradual slide left Phoenix 26-21 and temporarily out of the top eight slots in the West. Now the Suns have reeled off five straight wins, the last four on the road. As a result, the Suns are back up to fifth in the West and closing fast on the leaders. However, the trade deadline looms next week and the possibility of an Amare Stoudemire trade seems more real than ever. Anything could happen for this team from here on out.
10. (10) Oklahoma City Thunder (49.7 / 1.1%) [ 47 / 49 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 9; OFF: 18; DEF: 4; PACE: 16
While fellow upstart Memphis has slid back to the pack a little bit, the Thunder shows no signs of going away. Oh, there was a 3-5 stretch that dropped OKC to just three games over .500, but the Thunder has responded with five straight wins. Keying the most recent streak has been Russell Westbrook, who is looking more and more like the reincarnation of Lafayette Lever. Westbrook is averaging 19.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists this month, and also has 10 steals in three February games.
11. (9) San Antonio Spurs (49.4 / 1.1%) [ 48 / 54 / 57 ]
Rankings: NET: 5; OFF: 7; DEF: 9; PACE: 22
The acquisition of Richard Jefferson was one of the reasons that NBAPET projected the Spurs to contend for the NBA title, but the move hasn't worked out. Jefferson has been much more passive in Gregg Popovich's system than he's been in the past, which will happen when you find yourself as the fourth option. Perhaps the system is designed for a spot-up three in the mold of Bruce Bowen, but I find it hard to believe that there aren't options built into the offense that would allow Jefferson to attack the rim much more than he has this season.
12. (12) Portland Trail Blazers (47.9 / 0.7%) [ 46 / 48 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 12; OFF: 6; DEF: 18; PACE: 30
There have been a lot of teams battling key injuries in recent weeks, but don't expect anyone associated with the Trail Blazers to feel any sympathy. Portland has held onto a spot in the West's top eight, but its standing is tenuous. Brandon Roy is expected back after the break and when he returns, he should find an Andre Miller much more comfortable in his Trail Blazer skin. It'll be interesting to see how aggressively Kevin Pritchard pursues a center. Portland has the young chips to deal, but is it worth it? If Portland does end up eighth, adds a legit center (Brendan Haywood) and gets relatively healthy by playoff time, it'd be a first-round match that the Lakers would not be looking forward to.
13. (13) Houston Rockets (45.8 / 0.0%) [ 44 / 42 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 15; OFF: 17; DEF: 14; PACE: 11
The next 10 days will be very interesting in Houston, which has gone 7-10 over its last 17 games to fall out of a playoff slot in the West. One way or another, Tracy McGrady's expiring contract is going to yield the Rockets a valuable asset, even it's just cap space after the season. It'd be more fun in the short term it it yielded someone like Amare Stoudemire, Andre Iguodala or Tyrus Thomas, but we'll just have to see. Iguodala in particular would be an interesting pick-up as he still seems underrated as an impact talent.
14. (14) Charlotte Bobcats (43.1 / 0.0%) [ 40 / 43 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 14; OFF: 23; DEF: 6; PACE: 27
A three-game losing streak has dropped the Bobcats below .500 and could result in a mad deadline scramble to add another piece in an effort to lock down the franchise's first playoff berth. Whether or not that happens could depend upon how Tyler Chandler looks in the last two games before the All-Star break, his first games since Dec. 22. Expectations are probably low that Chandler can have an impact, but if he is healthy, he can give Larry Brown what the Bobcats think they might be getting in a possible Brendan Haywood acquisition--and you could use D.J. Augustin to land another wing.
15. (15) Toronto Raptors (43.0 / 0.0%) [ 45 / 39 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 16; OFF: 2; DEF: 30; PACE: 10
The Raptors are hot entering the break, having won seven of eight with only a home game against Philadelphia left before the weekend. Reggie Evans may be returning to the rotation for that game after missing Toronto's first 51 games with a mid-foot sprain. Evans can help a team that ranks 27th in defensive rebounding and 30th in Defensive Rating. That said, who is giving up minutes? Won't be Andrea Bargnani or Chris Bosh. Rasho Nesterovic has barely played as it is. Amir Johnson may be the guy. Either way, it'll be interesting to see how Jay Triano incorporates Evans into Toronto's style of play.
16. (17) Memphis Grizzlies (41.8 / 0.0%) [ 42 / 38 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 19; OFF: 13; DEF: 24; PACE: 8
The Grizzlies will get a bit of a lift after the break when Darrell Arthur is expected to return for his first action of the season after an injury to pectoral muscle. Remember Arthur? As a rookie last season, he started 63 games for Memphis. He was effective at times, but clearly not ready for that big of a role. The difference in his production last season and Zach Randolph's in this campaign is the biggest reason the Grizzlies are so much better. Nevertheless, Memphis has dropped six of 10 and its bench could definitely use a boost.
17. (16) Miami Heat (41.6 / 0.1%) [ 38 / 40 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 13; OFF: 15; DEF: 12; PACE: 28
Last week, we noted the up-and-down nature of Miami's season and the Heat have responded by staying down. The Heat have lost five straight and seven of eight, dropping to three games under .500 and into a virtual eighth-place tie with Milwaukee in the East. Miami has the league's easiest schedule over the remainder of the season, but that won't help if Miami keeps playing this way. Miami needs bodies but of course won't do anything at the trade deadline to jeopardize its cap space for the coming summer. The Heat will also be without Mario Chalmers for an indefinite period because of a thumb injury.
18. (20) Milwaukee Bucks (39.7 / 0.0%) [ 38 / 41 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 17; OFF: 24; DEF: 8; PACE: 12
After an agonizing 10-22 stretch, the Bucks have quietly resumed a gradual climb back into the East's playoff picture. Milwaukee has won five of six, with games left against Detroit and New Jersey before the break. The Bucks commit fewer fouls than any team in the league, but also draw the fewest, a really strange combination that hints of a team that just isn't very physical. Chances are the Bucks will be more in subtraction mode over the next 10 days because, long term, Milwaukee needs to get its finances in order before it can build around its exciting young nucleus.
19. (18) New Orleans Hornets (39.6 / 0.0%) [ 43 / 37 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 18; OFF: 14; DEF: 19; PACE: 19
Darren Collison has become something of a sensation. Since Chris Paul was injured against Chicago on Jan. 29, the Hornets have gone 2-4, but Collison has put up some big raw numbers: 18.3 points and 9.7 assists in six games as the starting point guard. You have to wonder if Collison will be satisfied going back into his role as Paul's backup, you know, because of Platonian philosophy and all. Frankly, if I'm New Orleans, I start quietly looking for a team that might take on Peja Stojakovic so they can get their hands on Collison. Couldn't hurt to try.
20. (19) Chicago Bulls (37.9 / 0.0%) [ 40 / 33 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 21; OFF: 29; DEF: 7; PACE: 13
OK, I'm a Star Trek fanatic. I admit it. I don't wear pointy ears or speak Klingon, but I am currently watching the entire canon in chornological order. And by chronological order, I mean by star date. I share this with you because it occurs to me that if a Vulcan could mind-meld with Josh Smith, then do the same to share that knowledge with Tyrus Thomas, the Bulls might be able to salvage something out of Thomas. As it is, it looks like Gar Forman is going to be unloading Thomas for pennies on the dollar after the latest outburst from the talented forward.
21. (21) Los Angeles Clippers (32.9 / 0.0%) [ 34 / 30 / 27 ]
Rankings: NET: 23; OFF: 25; DEF: 16; PACE: 18
I would be shocked--shocked!--if Marcus Camby is still in a Clippers uniform after the trade deadline. There is just no earthly reason to keep him in L.A. and even Mike Dunleavy must realize that. Once he's gone, I'd love to see Kim Hughes crank up the minutes for DeAndre Jordan and experiment with playing Chris Kaman more at the four position. Kaman has the midrange faceup game to make it work and it would give Jordan valuable experience working with the first unit in an extended role. Could pay off in lineup versatility when Blake Griffin is back next season.
22. (23) Philadelphia 76ers (32.4 / 0.0%) [ 31 / 34 / 40 ]
Rankings: NET: 22; OFF: 20; DEF: 20; PACE: 24
The Sixers aren't really making much of an attempt at running Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense any more, which is really the best thing for this collection of players. Here's the thing, though. Do you want to craft a roster so that Jordan can properly install the system he believes in so much? Does it seem worth it? No, I don't think so, either. Now that we can agree on that, I have to wonder why Jordan is still coaching the Sixers. I'm as patient as anyone when it comes to giving a person a legit shot at doing a job, but this has just seemed like a terrible fit from day one.
23. (22) New York Knicks (30.9 / 0.0%) [ 31 / 34 / 31 ]
Rankings: NET: 20; OFF: 16; DEF: 21; PACE: 7
A 4-11 stretch has certainly tempered the enthusiasm that swirled around the Knicks just after the New Year, and has led to the drastic step of inserting Nate Robinson into the starting lineup. Robinson has really played well off the bench this year, despite his month-long exile to the end of the bench back in December. However, making him your starting point guard means another finishing stretch in which the Knicks are spending a lot of time running a system that isn't really what D'Antoni wants to run. I realize that Chris Duhon's play kind of forced his hand, but the Knicks need to add an actual starting point guard for the stretch run, if only to keep David Lee, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler functioning in their proper roles.
24. (25) Washington Wizards (28.2 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 29 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 26; OFF: 22; DEF: 23; PACE: 17
The Wizards are entering rebuild mode full bore, with their entire starting frontline headlining every other trade rumor and their starting point guard bargaining to stay out of the hoosegow. That's fine. This team needs to rebuild. They needed to rebuild before the season started. Now that they have the rare opportunity to void a massive cap space vortex, reconstruction advocates have been given a second chance. Unfortunately for Wizards fans, it seems as if it'll be Ernie Grunfeld that kicks off the effort. If I were a Wizards fan, I would not like that.
25. (24) Sacramento Kings (27.7 / 0.0%) [ 26 / 29 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 24; OFF: 19; DEF: 26; PACE: 6
The Kevin Martin trade rumors are among the most prevalent flying around the internet, but there don't appear to be any two that agree on a possible destination for the coveted master of efficient scoring. Have the Kings really seen enough to indicate that Martin and Tyreke Evans cannot co-exist? I can't answer that, nor can I answer whether or not that backcourt can work. However, if Geoff Petrie and Paul Westphal don't think it's a match, now is the time to move. If Martin's contract, which runs through 2012-13, can be cleared away for an expiring contract, then you have to do it.
26. (28) Indiana Pacers (26.8 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 27 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 25; OFF: 27; DEF: 17; PACE: 2
T.J. Ford played well after being forced back into the rotation because of the short-term absence of Earl Watson. Now Watson is back, and Jim O'Brien has to figure out what to do with Ford, who had been banished to the end of the bench because of his erratic play. Ford is the most talented of the point guard trio. Price is the rookie and thus needs the minutes if he's earned them, which he has. If I'm Larry Bird, I'm doing everything I can to see if Ford has any value on the trade market. His contract runs through next season.
27. (27) Detroit Pistons (26.1 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 25 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 28; OFF: 26; DEF: 22; PACE: 29
That Ben Gordon would even be mentioned in trade rumors in his first season with the Pistons is indicative of just how far off the rails Joe Dumars went with his strategy last offseason. Gordon hasn't been bad. He's been Ben Gordon--1.02 points created per possession used on a 27 percent usage rate. High volume, low efficiency. No surprises there. Gordon will be difficult to trade for the same reasons the Bulls chose not to retain him after last season. He's certainly got his positive traits, but he's an awkward enough fit on any roster that he just isn't worth the money he seems to command.
28. (26) Golden State Warriors (25.4 / 0.0%) [ 21 / 29 / 35 ]
Rankings: NET: 27; OFF: 21; DEF: 27; PACE: 1
While I've been critical of the extreme high volume of Monta Ellis' game this season and am skeptical of the long-term prospects of an Ellis-Stephen Curry backcourt, Ellis' latest injury could be a tough blow for Golden State. This team has to field a complete lineup, right? Ellis sprained his left knee late in the loss to Dallas on Monday. Ellis will probably be back after the break, perhaps even on Wednesday. The Warriors have been as wrecked by injuries this season as any team in the league, which is saying something in a season in which there seem to have been more significant injuries than normal.
29. (29) Minnesota Timberwolves (19.9 / 0.0%) [ 20 / 19 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 29; OFF: 28; DEF: 25; PACE: 4
David Kahn says Ricky Rubio is part of the Wolves' future core, along with Jonny Flynn, Kevin Love and Al Jefferson. Two point guards. Two power forwards. How's that work?
30. (30) New Jersey Nets (9.3 / 0.0%) [ 6 / 12 / 40 ]
Rankings: NET: 30; OFF: 30; DEF: 28; PACE: 21
After Rod Thorn rebuffed my offer to replace Del Harris on the bench, I decided not to write about the Nets this week. What is there to say, anyway?
RANKINGS: NET = net efficiency ratio; OFF - offensive efficiency; DEF - defensive efficiency; PACE: average possessions per game
Adjusted winning percentage (AWP) = ((home wins x 0.6)+(road wins x 1.4)) / (((home wins x 0.6)+(road wins x 1.4)) + ((home losses x .1.4)+(road losses x 0.6)))
Championship probability (CHAM) = percent of championships won out of 10,000 simulations of the "as of today" playoff bracket, based on each team's POW
Opponents winning percentage (OWP) = aggregate percentage of games won for each team's opponents, based on the number of times the team has faced that opponent.
Playoff Potential (POT) = suggests the highest likely postseason round a team might advance to, based on comparing its POW to other teams in our database
Power rating (POW) = (((PYTH + AWP)/2)*(OWP/.500)) x 82
Pythagorean winning percentage (PYTH) = uses the basketball-reference formula of Games x (Points scored^14) / ((Points scored^14) + (Points allowed^14))
WP82 = wins produced per 82 games, adjusted for playing time
WP3K = wins produced per 3,000 minutes
SKILL RATINGS: player performance is quantitatively tracked in a variety of categories that represent a cross-section of basketball skills; in each category, the player's performance is measured against others at his position, then slotted in a league-wide percentile ranking. The percentile ranking is converted to an intergral rating between +5 and -5, with 0 being average. Skill ratings are tracked for overall production (TOT), offensive production (OFF), on-ball defensive ability (DEF), overall rebounding (REB), passing (PAS), ballhandling (HND), shooting (SHT), athleticism (ATH), foul-drawing (FOU), blocks-plus-steals (BPS).
Statistical Plus Minus (SPM): measures a players net effect in points per 100 team possessions.
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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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