1. San Antonio Spurs – Although they dropped their most important game of the week – a road loss to Orlando on Thursday – they still hold the league’s best record, and rightfully so. Tim Duncan’s numbers are well below his career averages, however, that has been proved to mean nothing, as the Spurs are playing their best offense (106.2 PPG) since Timmy D was drafted in 97. Couple their newfound fire on the offensive end with their immortal, championship-winning defense on the other end, and you won’t see the Spurs lose to many games this season. They are going to have quite a challenge defending their post as number one, as their next five opponents include: at home against the Los Angeles Lakers; on the road against the Dallas Mavericks; home against the Oklahoma City Thunder; then back-to-back road matchups with the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics.
2. Dallas Mavericks – Unfortunately for the Mavs, they have to play in the same division as the Spurs; nevertheless, they have proved to be just as much of an obstacle for opposing teams, as for the first time in recent memory, a high-octane offense is not the sole reason behind their success. Instead, they have flipped the switch, and are holding their opponents to 43.4 percent shooting, good for fourth in the league. Dirk Nowitzki is being mentioned as an MVP candidate, but although he is having yet another outstanding season (24.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG), he can’t receive all of the credit. Dirk is playing alongside an outstanding supporting cast in Jason Terry (15.4 PPG), Caron Butler (14.6 PPG) and Shawn Marion (10.5 PPG). And at 37 years old, Jason Kidd is still exhibiting why he is still one of the best point guards in the league as he is averaging 8.8 APG and 1.64 SPG. The biggest asset to the Mavs’ success has been the defensive play of Tyson Chandler, who is anchoring this team’s defense similar to how Kevin Garnett altered the Celtics’ defense upon arriving in Boston in the 2007-08 season. Although two out of their next three games are against the Spurs and Thunder, don’t expect the Mavericks to let up – now, or anytime soon.
3. Miami Heat – Everyone knew it was coming. .500 ball wasn’t going to be the story of the South Beach Super Friends’ first season together, and it was just a matter of when before they got hot and went on a winning streak. After their 12-game string of victories was ended by Dallas, they got right back up and won on the road in Phoenix by 12 points three nights later. Then on Christmas Day, came the most anticipated game of the year, as LeBron, Wade and Co. traveled to Los Angeles to take on the two-time defending world champion Lakers. While they game was hyped up almost as much as Miami’s new trio was coming into the season, the Heat played up to the buzz surrounding them, and behind a triple double from LeBron James, they blew out the Lake Show by 16 points. Having won 14 of their last 15 games, it appears the Heat have caught fire and don’t plan on looking back. They play two moderately tough games against the Knicks and Houston Rockets, but after that, they won’t play a team that’s above .500 until January 9.
4. Boston Celtics – Although they are tied for the second best record in the league, the Celtics are not the same team without Rajon Rondo, who remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Prior to Christmas day, they had won 14 consecutive games (five without Rondo), and despite being dropped by the streak-busting Orlando Magic, they are still among the league’s best. Kevin Garnett is showing flashes of his Defensive Player of the Year season (he is currently averaging 15.6 PPG and 9.7 RPG), and Paul Pierce (18.2 PPG on a career-high 48.6 percent shooting )continues to be a nightly offensive threat for this team. Ultimately, their depth down low is what will keep them among the league’s elite, as they possess an untapped arsenal of big man that are ready to contribute (Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Glen Davis, Jermaine O’Neal and when he returns from injury, Kendrick Perkins). At full health, there might not be a better team in the league than the Celtics, who, despite being one of the oldest teams in the league, continue to find ways to grind out wins on a nightly basis.
5. Los Angeles Lakers – It’s tough to look at other rankings and not see the Lakers in the top three. It’s even tougher having to concede to the fact, that whoever conjured those rankings, are undoubtedly right. At this point in the season, the Lakers are not playing elite basketball. The collapse on Christmas Day contributes to that notion, but it doesn’t complete it. Through 30 games, they have only beaten one team that has a winning record; but take that with a grain of salt considering they have only played a total of six games against teams with such a win percentage. Pau Gasol’s molasses hands of late, are making people wonder if the Kwame Brown trade has been reversed, and Ron Artest is not being the defensive player he was for the Lakers last season. The Lakers will get back on track; the question is, when? Their next two games are on the road against the Spurs and New Orleans Hornets. Picking up wins in both games would be the jumpstart the Lakers so desperately need. Kobe wasn’t more on point when he said (in reference to the team’s matchup with the Spurs), “We could be playing Minnesota –Yeah, I said it – and I’d still be concerned.”