Biggest difference between the Clippers at start of season and the Clippers of today? They seem to understand Lob City needs some D. Can’t help but think the return of Chauncey Billups has something to do with that.
5 Grizzlies 39-19
Zach Randolph hinted the Grizzlies might be a better team without
Rudy Gay. Sounded crazy at the time. But the Grizzlies are a well-oiled machine, and Lionel Hollins might be the frontrunner for coach of the year.
Luol Deng and
Joakim Noah are the main men until
Derrick Rose returns, whenever that may be -- but it’s the play of little-knowns like
Jimmy Butler that may determine how the Bulls finish. So far, it’s going OK.
10 Nets 34-26 -1
With a month left in the regular season,
Deron Williams and the Nets are the same as they ever were. They’re talented enough to reach the conference finals, and unpredictable enough to lose in the first round.
11 Celtics 31-27
Perhaps the most interesting team after the All-Star break. Everyone figured the Celtics’ aging big guns,
Kevin Garnett and
Paul Pierce, would be elsewhere. But they’re still here, and the Celtics are still lurking.
The Lakers could’ve gone one of two ways after the All-Star break. They could’ve completely collapsed, or pulled together for a run at the playoffs. Not surprisingly,
Kobe Bryant is making sure it’s the latter.
14 Rockets 33-28 +1
League’s youngest team became even younger when it traded for
Thomas Robinson, and a lot of folks figured the Rockets had an eye on next year. Not so fast, they seem to say.
The schedule has gotten a little tougher in the post-break, and the Warriors are suffering because of it. For them and a few other teams in the West, the playoffs have already begun.
16 Jazz 32-28 -3
Al Jefferson and
Paul Millsap have remained entirely focused despite possessing expiring contracts, and the bench is a little more in tune. Read: Jazz shouldn’t be taken lightly.
17 Bucks 30-28
Brandon Jennings is actually playing like a real point guard, distributing almost as much as he is looking for his own shot. The Bucks appear to be better for it.
18 Trail Blazers 28-31 +1
Meyers Leonard is going in the opposite direction of most rookies -- getting better as the season progresses. That’s a good thing, because he’s likely to be the starting center when the Blazers are ready for a playoff push next season.
Dirk Nowitzki is suffering through his most difficult season as a pro, as the Mavericks are stuck in the mud. At this point, .500 would be an accomplishment.
20 Raptors 23-38
Andrea Bargnani has about 20 games to prove he wants to remain a Raptor beyond this season. If he’s convincing, the future might be even brighter than we thought.
21 Pistons 23-39 +2
The Pistons too often look like they’re playing out the string but have just enough youth and passion to survive. A very important off-season awaits, because once-proud organization can’t afford to be this way again next season.
The Andrew Bynum soap opera continues, as it now appears unlikely he’ll even suit up for the
Sixers this season. Sixers say they want to keep him, but that would be tough to justify.
23 Timberwolves 20-37 -1
Ricky Rubio will always give observers a reason to watch. But without
Kevin Love, the Wolves don’t have a reason to win.
24 Cavaliers 20-40
Youngest starting lineup in the league came to together right after the All-Star break. But that youth is exactly why
Kyrie Irving and the gang aren’t likely to be overly consistent yet.
25 Suns 21-39 +3
General manager Lance Blanks has a lot of work to do during the summer. If he fails to give Suns an extreme makeover, things could continue like this for another five years.
26 Hornets 21-40 -1
Anthony Davis has been able to stay healthy and figure out life in the pros. So the Hornets have a main man. What, however, becomes of everyone else?
27 Kings 21-40
With a group stepping forward to keep the Kings in Sacramento, the only mystery that remains is where the team will be next season. As for this one, it’s probably best to pretend it never really happened.
28 Wizards 19-39 -2
Entering the season, the Wizards thought they might have something special, a fairly young team with capable veterans. Guess it’s time to try again next year.
29 Magic 17-44
Arron Afflalo is becoming the Magic’s go-to man, and it’s been working out OK. At the same time, he’s more suited to be a No. 4 option.
30 Bobcats 13-47
For a team that can’t really win, they’re not as awful as they were last year. It’s a small, meaningless step, but a step nonetheless.