By: Louis Prejean
After a slow start for some teams in the Western Conference, some are finding their rhythm after nine weeks in the NBA. The East, meanwhile, continues to exceed all expectations with strong play. If the NBA stays like it is, we are in for a great second half of the season with these top teams performing like this.
1. Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors are taking a bit of a hit in their goal to break the Chicago Bulls’ regular season record of 72-10 with Stephen Curry being out with a leg injury. However, Curry will only rest for a couple of games. The team will face some unfamiliar territory by playing without their leader and it showed against the Dallas Mavericks. Golden State suffered a loss on the road without him and they must step up to show that they are a complete team that doesn’t totally crash without Curry in the lineup. That’s right, Klay Thompson, now you get to prove if you really are the best shooting guard in the NBA. This is a minor step back for the Warriors, but at 29-2 they are still the best team in the league.
2. San Antonio Spurs
With the Warriors’ great start to the season and media coverage, some would believe that the San Antonio Spurs are 10 games back of first place in the Western Conference. That is not the case. The Spurs are a mere 2.5 games behind the Warriors and there are no signs of them slowing down. The Warriors might lose a couple of games without Stephen Curry, so San Antonio and their number one defense can now gain some ground to show that they might be the most complete team.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
Name one duo playing better than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Impossible. Both are top ten in scoring and it is hard to stop a team that arguably has two top ten players in the NBA. Enes Kanter is coming on for the Thunder as of late. Again, the bench is a major factor for the Thunder because Durant and Westbrook can only carry this team so much before they get exposed. Bench play is key for the Thunder. 22-10 is not too shabby of a record and their upcoming schedule is in their favor.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers just got Kyrie Irving back and after a slight slip they seem to be getting things together. This will be a slow process to ease Irving back into the lineup and have things run smooth for Cleveland. The Cavaliers get some much needed rest after a four game road trip and do not play again until Saturday. The rest will help get the team some time to practice with Kyrie Irving so they can pick up where they left off in last year’s incredible regular season run with him.
5. Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors are coming along nicely. With a 20-13 record, the Raptors are still one of the weirdest teams in the NBA, but they are staying a little more consistent lately. The Raptors are third in the Eastern Conference and gaining some momentum with a string of East teams on their schedule. They are still one of the most efficient offenses and defenses in the NBA. The Raptors rank 5th in offensive rating and 9th in defensive rating. Being top ten in offense and defense makes a great case for the Toronto Raptors as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
6. Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks are emerging as the second best team in the East and no one expected this after a sloppy start to the season. The question still remains if they are or not, but Atlanta is improving their play on both sides of the ball. The Hawks have increased to nearly top ten on both offense and defense. They are winners of seven of their last eight games with some fairly easy competition coming up on their schedule. Atlanta is only two games behind the Cavaliers. It will definitely be interesting to see how this plays out.
7. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat are slowing down just a little bit with back to back losses to the Nets and Grizzlies. The Nets’ loss is a bummer because it came at home, but the Heat are still one of the stronger teams in the East. Miami will get a good test of their abilities with their next three games coming against the Mavericks, Wizards, and Pacers. It’s time for Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to get their team back on track like the veterans that they are. They will need some help from “the others”, which won’t be hard for one of the better rosters in the NBA.
8. Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers are a balanced team on the offensive and defensive end of the floor. They rank 9th in scoring at 102.3 points per game and only allow 98.5 points per game, which ranks 7th. Indiana is third in defensive rating with 100.9 and they are showing that they still have a strong defensive identity. The Pacers are slightly struggling, but they scored a nice win against the red hot Atlanta Hawks. They also suffered a close loss at Chicago in a 102-100 overtime contest. The Indiana Pacers can bounce back because of their balance and they still remain as one of the top ten teams in the league.
9. Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks did what was thought impossible. They beat the Golden State Warriors, granted, it was the Warriors’ first game without Curry this season. It is still a nice win for a team that now has won four straight games. The Mavericks’ offense is clicking with a 105.9 offensive rating, which is good for 7th in the NBA. Dirk Nowitzki is leading the way with his timeless jump shot and play for the Mavericks and the rest of the team is playing good basketball. It does not matter how Dallas is winning, just as long as they are they will find a place in the list of the best teams.
10. Los Angeles Clippers
Down goes Blake Griffin, up comes the Los Angeles Clippers. This is strange. Blake Griffin has been the Clippers’ best player to start the season and now he will miss multiple weeks because of injury. The Clippers have now won four straight and hold a solid record of 20-13. What is more impressive is that all of these wins have come on the road to some good teams like the Jazz, Wizards, and Hornets. Chris Paul has been more aggressive for Los Angeles and when he is looking to take over the Clippers become one of the better teams in the league. With Blake Griffin out for some time, this forces Chris Paul to take over games instead of deferring to Griffin as much.
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