As we enter the final two months of the NBA season, here’s the latest rundown on the league’s top teams.
1. Houston Rockets
With the James Harden-Chris Paul duo blowing away the opposition, the Rockets have managed fine without the injured Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza. They are a threat to score 130 points every night and Harden is the front runner for MVP.
2. Toronto Raptors
A statement win against the Boston Celtics has led some to proclaim the Raptors the East’s most talented team. Toronto has to prove things in the playoffs but they are deep and Kyle Lowry has taken his play up a few gears in the past month. DeMar DeRozan is having the best year of his career.
3. Golden State Warriors
Some defensive slippage has cost Golden State lately but it is hard to escape the feeling that it is just a case of taking their foot off the gas a little. Steph Curry and Kevin Durant have been terrific, but the bench looks shakier than prior years. Draymond Green was terrific against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night and he remains the X-factor.
4. Boston Celtics
The Celtics stood pat at the trade deadline and may regret not adding another bench scorer. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are playing at a high level but an ugly loss in Toronto and a slow start in losing at home to the Indiana Pacers have rightly raised a few questions.
5. Milwaukee Bucks
Since firing Jason Kidd, the Bucks have been on a roll. They have won eight of their last ten games, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is growing as a leader. The Greek Freak has been dominating the highlight reels lately and now has Jabari Parker back to share some of the scoring burden. Injuries to Matthew Dellavedova and Malcolm Brogdon hurt, but this is a dangerous playoff team.
6. San Antonio Spurs
There is no obvious sign of a Kawhi Leonard return but the Spurs refuse to let that derail their season. LaMarcus Aldridge has excelled in a bigger role but this group’s ceiling is so different without Leonard. San Antonio remains a great defensive team and that strength will keep them among the top seeds.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
Jimmy Butler is one of the league’s best two-way players. He proved that again this week, going toe-toe with LeBron James. Minnesota’s defense is still an issue, though, with too many mistakes. The rumoured move for free agent Derrick Rose will not help on that end.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder scored an impressive victory over the Warriors on the road last week but had lost four in a row prior to that. The positive spin is that Russell Westbrook and company seem to save their best for the big games, which bodes well for the playoffs. Paul George has had some big offensive nights and is also a real contender for Defensive Player of the Year. The team is still adjusting to Andre Roberson’s season-ending injury.
9. Washington Wizards
The Wizards are still without star John Wall but have rallied impressively. They pushed the Celtics close this week and beat the Raptors at home. Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are stepping up.
10. Utah Jazz
The Jazz could have rolled over after more bad injury luck, but they have turned things around over the last few weeks. Rudy Gobert’s return has been huge, and eight straight wins (including a victory over Golden State) tells its own story. A playoff spot is in play again.