By: Louis Prejean
The 2015-16 NBA season is passing us by and soon enough the playoffs will be here in the blink of an eye. For now, the season has reached the midway point. Some teams have exceeded expectations, while others have disappointed. However, there is no doubt that it has been an entertaining first half to the NBA season. Stephen Curry has taken his play to astronomical levels and the Spurs are most likely having their best run under Gregg Popovich. The Eastern Conference has proved that they are no longer the weaker of the two conferences in the NBA with several teams an over .500 record. The midseason marks has ran by. Now it is time to run down the top ten teams through the first half of the 2015-16 NBA season.
1. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have been, without a doubt, the best team throughout the first half of the NBA season. From the top to bottom Golden State provides matchup problems for every team going against them. The Warriors can beat you with their high-powered offense and their ability to lock opponents down on defense. Draymond Green has taken his game to another level with his continued improvement season after season. Klay Thompson is shooting the way most expect him to. Also, this is the best Stephen Curry has ever played in his career. Give credit to all of the players on this Warriors team because they are without their official head coach, Steve Kerr, and they are playing with so much focus. Luke Walton has done a great job holding down the fort while Kerr is recovering. This organization has done a phenomenal job after winning it all last year, then improving upon their success this season.
2. San Antonio Spurs
It is amazing how this may be the best the Spurs have looked under Gregg Popovich, yet they have been overlooked. The San Antonio Spurs have been under the radar season after season. That does not stop them or lower their spirits from consistently being one of the best teams each year. If anything, being overlooked by most only fuels their fire while relieving any kind of real expectations for them. Kawhi Leonard has turned himself into one of the better two-way players in the NBA and a possible MVP candidate. The addition of NBA All-Star, LaMarcus Aldridge, has had nothing but a positive impact on this franchise in transition from their “Big 3” era. The Spurs look to be in good hands, as the play of these two have ignited this first half run.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers are 10-3 since the return of Kyrie Irving. One of their losses came at the hands of the Golden Warriors. Cleveland suffered one of their worst losses at home in franchise history and the worst of LeBron James’ career. Despite that, the Cavaliers are still a top three NBA teams. Never question the leadership of LeBron James. He has been single-handedly led his teams to great postseason runs. Do not forget the Cavaliers’ second half run last season when they ripped off wins like they were nothing. This team can be dominant and they are right now. The Cavaliers cannot get off to slow starts and find the right lineup for maximum efficiency. This is still a scary team.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder’s schedule has eased up on them as of late and they are racking up the wins because of it. Oklahoma City could easily take this part of the schedule for granted, but rather they are taking care of business. At the beginning of the season, the Thunder had issues on the defensive end. Since then they have fixed that issue and now rank among the top ten in opponents points per game and defensive efficiency. Billy Donovan deserves credit for gathering his players together to perform on both sides of the ball. The Thunder are streaking with five wins in a row and still have a string of winnable games coming up. Oklahoma City has turned into a serious threat to the entire NBA on both sides of the ball.
5. Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors have always been a great regular season team. The only problem for them is that they could not carry their regular season success into the postseason. The Raptors have positioned themselves nicely this season, as they are the second seed in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors are also building a comfortable lead between second and third with the Bulls being 1.5 games back and counting while Toronto is on a five game winning streak. This team is also about to get some nice home cooking with their next six games being in Toronto. This might spark a great second half run and give this team the confidence that they can find success in the playoffs.
6. Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers are winners of 11 of their last 12 games and all have come without the presence of their star power forward, Blake Griffin. That is note-worthy every week because no one expected the Clippers to play better without him in the lineup. Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, and DeAndre Jordan have really stepped up their play over the last 12 games. Of course having a fairly easy schedule during this span helps but this will give Los Angeles a must needed boost after a shaky start to the season. The Clippers are expecting Blake Griffin to return during a five-game road trip coming up, so they start to ease him into the great flow this team is playing with. It is impossible that a consistent NBA All-Star having the best season of his career will have a negative impact on this team. The NBA may need to watch out for the rejuvenated Clippers.
7. Atlanta Hawks
Get this. The Atlanta Hawks are with the Spurs, Cavs, Warriors, and Thunder as the only teams that rank in the top ten in terms of offense and defense. Pretty good company. That is what makes this Hawks team one to keep an eye on because they can dominate a team any given night. Atlanta has shown glimpses of last season’s great regular season run, but have failed to be the consistent team we would love to see. They are about to go on a four-game road trip, but all four games are against under .500 teams. Atlanta can gain some ground on the Eastern Conference with solid outings on this trip. At 25-17, the Hawks are not in bad position to gain homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Right now this team needs to discover more focus on winning the games in front of them. Taking it one game at a time will help the Hawks be more consistent.
8. Chicago Bulls
Jimmy Butler is playing out of his mind this season. Thanks to him, the Chicago Bulls are floating around the top of the Eastern Conference. Butler cannot do more for this team than he already his. He is literally doing everything besides selling concessions during the game. If it was not for his emergence on the offensive end of the floor then who knows where this team would be. The Bulls have a deep roster full of talent, but they seem to be in a perpetual offensive slump every year. He provides some lift on offense where it is needed. Pau Gasol has been a bright spot for Chicago and the rookie, Bobby Portis may have shown Fred Hoiberg that he deserves some more minutes in the rotation. The Chicago Bulls do not seem to have it all together, yet they seem to have the right tools to be one of the best teams in the NBA. The Bulls still have time to put it all together and do something great from now until the playoffs.
9. Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies have won five of their last six games and now post a record of 24-19. This is the first time all season when the Grizzlies have been five games above .500. What is nice for this team is that the schedule favors them to win over the next four or five games. They have made some changes to their style of play by moving Zach Randolph to the bench and playing more of a small ball style. Marc Gasol is having a great stretch of basketball, as we speak. Gasol is proving once again that he is the leader of this Memphis team. While they rank 27th in points per game on offense, the Grizzlies have the 6th best defense by only allowing 98.7 points per game. The Grizzlies may have found the right balance between their “grit and grind” style of play and a more up-tempo approach. Whatever it is, it’s working for them right now.
10. Miami Heat
This appearance may be a surprise to some due to the recent play of the Miami Heat. They have lost five of their last six games and it does not look good for this talented group of players. That is right, the Miami Heat stay on here for another based on the overall talent on their roster. Also, the Heat are second in opponents points per game. There are questions if age is catching up to their two stars in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. That cannot be the case this season because they were playing great not too long ago. Overall, this team is in a funk which can be snapped once they draw their focus on the offensive end. Miami is 29th in pace and 28th in points per game. Once Miami plays faster, we will see a better offensive team than we have in the first half. If there was one team that needs the All-Star break to regroup, it is the Miami Heat. Another bad week and they will no longer be mentioned among the top ten teams in the NBA. There is hope for them, though.
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