By: Louis Prejean
The All-Star break will soon be here, but teams are showing no signs of premature unwinding and relaxing before then. Some NBA teams are looking to play the best they can before a well-deserved rest. While, the same, familiar teams hang around towards the top of the league, others are looking to build momentum that will carry throughout the remainder of the season. Let’s look at the top ten teams in the NBA right now.
1. Golden State Warriors
Quick observation: Klay Thompson is getting too comfortable. Thompson’s recent play for the Golden State Warriors has been great to watch. It is almost seems like he will never miss a shot. Draymond Green is still playing some of the best individual basketball this season by anyone in the league. He does everything from assisting teammates to defending one of the other team’s best player. The Swiss army knife of the Golden State Warriors has really impressed everyone that has watched the Warriors play this season. As great as the players are themselves, what makes the Warriors so fun to watch is the teamwork. Oh, and Stephen Curry. He is fun to watch too, I guess.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Yes, the San Antonio Spurs are going to okay. They are 40-8 in the Western Conference. So why mention that they are okay? The Spurs suffered pretty big losses to the Warriors and Cavaliers recently. This has people questioning if the Spurs can compete with the top tier teams in the NBA. Of course they can. They played both of those games without Tim Duncan and he would have made a difference in those games. They are still 40-8. The Spurs have nothing to worry about except for getting fully healthy for the postseason. San Antonio will not fold over because of a couple losses in the regular season. This team is not one to overlook, yet everyone does.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are 37-13, yet third place in the Western Conference. How unfair is the top of the West? Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have to be putting their names among some elite company with their play this season. Westbrook is a triple-double machine and Durant has scored 20 or more points in 42 of his 43 games played this season. This tandem alone can lead any team to the playoffs, but when you throw in a Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter then this Thunder team becomes a problem. We will see just how good this Thunder team is when they play the Warriors this Saturday. Will they be able to keep up with the team play of the Warriors? The Thunder cannot fall into too much isolation play because they are hard to beat when sharing the basketball.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
With David Blatt gone, Kevin Love has been unleashed. Ty Lue may have just started his head coaching career but it seems that he has a clear mind of how he wants this Cleveland team to play. Lue has a clear picture for Kevin Love’s role in the offense, something that has been in question since he came to the Cavaliers. That is so important to the success of Cleveland moving forward. Ty Lue has done a great job initiating his plan for this team and the players have responded well to him. The Cavaliers are currently on a five-game winning streak and the “big 3” of Love, James, and Irving have not played this well in quite some time. Ty Lue may have made this team more dangerous than they already were with his set strategy in place.
5. Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan may have slated their names into the second best backcourt behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. One cannot say enough about how Lowry and DeRozan carry this team night in and night out. Yes, the Toronto Raptors have other nice pieces surrounding the talented backcourt. However, these two are doing whatever it takes to make sure the Raptors are in a position to win every game they play. The Raptors as a team are playing inspired basketball and Dwane Casey deserved more credit than he is getting. Some may say the Raptors are playing better than the Cavaliers are. They are second in the East to the Cavs with a record of 33-16. Not too shabby.
6. Los Angeles Clippers
This team will have to make due without Blake Griffin for another couple of months after Griffin’s incident with the team staff. Not like they desperately needed Blake Griffin to return anyway. The Los Angeles Clippers have played well under the control of Chris Paul and the improving pay of DeAndre Jordan. Jamal Crawford has also really stepped up his game as of late and that provides the Clippers with a much needed spark off the bench. The second unit as a whole has played better and this team is now 15-3 without Blake Griffin. Part of it is the easy schedule, but give credit where it is due.
7. Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies are rolling. It is good to see an old-school type of team like this thrive in today’s up-tempo style. The Grizzlies did go through sort of an identity crisis when they thought playing small ball would help them. However, benching Zach Randolph was not right and that is all fixed now. They are now 29-20 and there are no signs of many teams stopping the roaring Grizzlies. They have rediscovered their true “grit and grind” brand and have moved up to 6th in fewest point allowed by only giving up 99 points per game.
8. Atlanta Hawks
Despite all of the offensive struggles the Hawks have been through in the past few games, this team still remains tied for the third seed in the East. This goes to show that the Atlanta Hawks can be good when they really want to. To be in a good position right now despite struggling so bad shows that this was a team capable of going on winning streaks. They have the ability to share the ball on offense unlike most teams and the ability to get it done on the defensive end. The Atlanta Hawks’ problem lies on focus and we have merely seen glimpses of what they can do when locked in. But hey, do not count out the Hawks yet because their best basketball is still ahead of them and that could benefit around playoff time.
9. Boston Celtics
We are passed the midway point of the NBA season and the Boston Celtics are tied for the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Pretty much no one could have predicted that sentence to be written before the season started. Boston has an All-Star point guard in Isaiah Thomas and a team full of hard workers, such as Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. These three are the main components in the Celtics’ recent success, along with the wonderful coaching of Brad Stevens. This team is finding a rhythm with their brand of tenacious defense and it is a joy to watch.
10. Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls are a hit and miss kind of team. They are able to compete with the best and even win against the elite teams, but this team has a tendency to play rather flat at times. The Bulls are one of the Eastern Conference teams that display the theme of inconsistency that plagues the rest of the East. Jimmy Butler is doing all that he can, but it is only a matter of time when the Bulls will need more productive and consistent play from the others like Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose. Rookie coach, Fred Hoiberg is deserving of partial blame for the level of discipline this team as shown, or lack thereof.