1. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks’ are looking near unstoppable so far. From the past five games, they have beat their opponent by an average of 15.4 points. Khris Middleton has been playing amazing lately, shooting 62% from the field, and over 50% from beyond the arc. Giannis has been playing like, well… Giannis. He is averaging 31.2 points per game, along with 3 double-doubles, and one triple-double in the last five games. Since the new year, the Bucks are averaging 117.5 points per game, and it doesn’t look like they are going to stop.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have been without star player Anthony Davis for a few games, but that wasn’t a problem for the Lakers. They have won six of the last eight, the only negative was an embarrassing loss to the Celtics. The rest of the games though, the Lakers have looked like a complete team. Although LeBron is looked at as the Laker’s main player, Davis leads the team in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks. He is having an all-star year, and no team can stop their one-two punch of him and LeBron.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have been without their star player Paul George during the past 5 games and their defense is starting to take a toll. They have allowed their opponents to consistently score above 95 points with 4 teams going over 100. During this stretch, they lost to the Hawks who rank at the bottom of the East record wise. The only reason they have been able to squeak out games is due to Kawhi Leonards’s offense. He has 33 points in the last 5 games leading to the Clippers having a positive 4-1 record. The Clippers aren’t outplaying anyone, they are just outscoring them.
4. Miami Heat
Miami is probably one of the most surprising teams this year. With a record of 31-14, the Heat are 3rd in the Eastern Conference. One of the reasons Miami is having so much success is because of their depth. The Heat have a strong, young group of guys who are each reliable in clutch time. MIP candidate Bam Adebayo is having a year to remember. He is averaging 15.9 points per game, ten rebounds per game, and it doesn’t look like he is going to slow down. In the last five games, the Heat have won three. Both of the losses have been by only 5 points. Miami finds a way to stay in each of the games they play, never letting a team get away before the buzzer sounds. They also have a lot to look forward to in the future, with Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler, Kendrick Nunn, and Bam Adebayo. Potentially one of the best starting lineups in the coming years.
5. Denver Nuggets
Denver is playing great this year, sporting a record of 32-14, 4th in the West. This past week, they have won three of the last four, not having Jamal Murray and/or Gary Harris in them. Denver has an outstanding defense led by the Joker (Nikola Jokić) down in the paint. They rank 5th in the NBA in points per game allowed, giving up just 106 points per game. Jokić has come up clutch in games this past week when being empty-handed without his two sidekicks.
6. Boston Celtics
The Celtics are one of the few teams that are striving on both sides of the ball. They rank 3rd in the league in defense, and top 15 in scoring and shooting. Kemba Walker has lead them to three victories in their last four games, including a 32 point dub against the LA Lakers. Their defense helped in that game, limiting LeBron and Anthony Davis to under 25 points. Coach Brad Stevens is doing a great job facilitating his team, especially when they have lost a player due to an injury. If you remember, a couple of years ago, Stevens took Boston to a seven game series in the Eastern Conference Finals, all without Kyrie. This Boston team is a contender, and don ́t count them out.
7. Utah Jazz
Spida-Mitchell and the Jazz are playing their best ball of the season. Their previous high in points per game in a month was 110, in December. This month, they are averaging 120.3 points per game. The Jazz just recently had a ten game winning streak by the Pelicans, falling in overtime. They now hold the number two seed in the western conference, thanks to their outstanding defense. On Monday, the Jazz bounced back from their loss blowing the Pacers out. Utah scored 118 points, allowing just 88 points. There is a lot to look forward to in the future, maybe even a title run, if the Jazz can continue this dominance.
8. Toronto Raptors
The defending champs have gotten off to a promising start this year. They are in 3rd place in the East, with a 32-14 record. The Raps are currently on a seven game winning streak, with their last loss coming by just one point. Pascal Siakam is leading the team in points this year, with 23.8. When Spicy P is having a good game, the Raptors look near unstoppable. Although there is one problem with this team, their offense. They rank 14th in the NBA in points per game, which isn’t bad, but it’s not going to take them very far in the playoffs. Expect the Raptors to work in this or they won’t be going anywhere
9. Indiana Pacers
One of the hottest teams in the NBA right now are the Indiana Pacers. They have been playing without star point guard Victor Oladipo who is due to come back very soon. They have won 7 out of their last 9 games and are playing on a completely different level. Malcolm Brogdon has lead the team coming in clutch down the stretch and getting easy buckets. The Pacers seem to have a new identity as a mid-range team, it will be interesting to see if this changes when Victor gets back.
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10. Dallas Mavericks
Start strong, finish stronger. The first part is something the Mavs have been able to do, but they just can’t find a way to finish games out. Dallas ranks third in the NBA in scoring, but somehow they fall to 21st in the league in scoring in the clutch (when the game has five or less minutes remaining where the winning team is up by five points or less). They have a strong group of guys backing Luka and Kristaps up, but none can save the team from blowing a lead they had most of the game. The Mavericks have a 10-14 record in the clutch. Don’t get me wrong, Dallas is an outstanding team and they have a lot of potential, but if they can’t score in the last three to five minutes, their playoff run will be very short.
11. Houston Rockets
This week has not been one to remember for Houston, going 1-4 in their last five games. They blew a 17 point to the Thunder, loss to the Anthony Davis-less Lakers, and have not shown that they are worthy of a title. After going on a four game losing streak, they responded with a 16 point win over the Nuggets. Russell Westbrook has had a great stretch the last four games, averaging 31.5 points per game. The Rockets have four of their 5 starters averaging 10 or more points per game, but the defense is what is killing them. Houston ́s defense ranks 21st in the league, giving up 114.2 points per game. All of the teams worse than them in points per game allowed are below the eight seed in their conference. If the Rockets were a top ten team in defense, then I would say that they could actually win a championship. But until then, it will be the same result at the end of the year.
12. Philadelphia 76ers
Although Joel Embid has been out during the past 8 games, the Sixers are surviving. With a 5-3 record, while Embid has been hurt, their only losses are against good playoff teams. Their defense has also played well leading to them staying in these games. They are holding their opponent to less than a point per game which is crazy considering that this is a team missing a potential Defensive Player of the Year. Overall this is a team with solid players holding on until their main star gets back from injury
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13. Oklahoma City Thunder
Another hot team in the NBA as the Thunder have come out of nowhere to get in the playoff conversation. A team that has many solid players on the team contributing. All 4 out of the 5 thunder starters average more than 10 points with Dennis Schroder coming off the bench averaging 18.6 points per game. This team has seemed to put it all together, the only question is if they can keep this up. The Thunder’s main struggles are rebounding as they barely grab half the rebounds possible. If they could figure out how to solve this problem and get out of the bottom 10 in rebounding you will be looking at a very good playoff team.
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14. Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies are currently one of the Western Conference teams fighting for an eight seed spot to make the playoffs. Ja Morant has continuously impressed the NBA with his highlight reel dunks and passes. Memphis has won 9 of their last 11 games, including victories against the Houston Rockets, and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Grizzlies currently own the eighth seed, with the Spurs two games behind them.
15. New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans just got Zion back, and they are now yet another contender for the eight seed in the Western Conference. Not only has Zion shown what is yet to come, but so has Brandon Ingram. Ingram is set to be an All-Star this year, as he showing the world what he is made of, and what he is capable of doing. In Zion ́s first win, the Pelicans ́ beat a healthy Celtics team by 15 points. Jrue Holiday and Zion combined for 46 points, leading New Orleans to a key victory. Although there are six teams competing for the last spot in the playoffs, the Pels look like one of the teams who could actually make something interesting happen.
Top Photo by Wikipedia, wikipedia.com