The San Antonio Spurs added help this season and learned a valuable playoff lesson last year. Combine those two things, and they’re again the team to beat. But the Bulls, Thunder, Heat and Lakers might have something to say about that. Check out the top performers of the week and find out where your team ranks.
1. San Antonio Spurs
Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw prove to be March’s biggest NBA additions. Spurs enter playoffs as league’s hottest, and maybe deepest, team.
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2. Chicago Bulls
Practically assured of best record in East, Derrick Rose and the gang now aiming for best in the league.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
Return of James Harden vital to playoff chances. Until then, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should be able to carry scoring load alone.
4. Miami Heat
Another fantastic regular season for LeBron James. Is this the year it finally results in a title?
5. Indiana Pacers
Best finish since the Reggie Miller years. But it will take winning a round or two in the playoffs before people believe it can be sustained.
6. Los Angeles Lakers
Metta World Peace may be out awhile for his elbow to the head of James Harden, but Kobe Bryant and an improved Andrew Bynum are biggest reasons Lakers are title contenders.
7. Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin is about to get his first taste of playoffs. This is where true superstars are born.
8. Memphis Grizzlies
Look even better than last season, when they won a round in the playoffs. This time, Rudy Gay is healthy.
9. Boston Celtics
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen look as determined as ever to prove the skeptics wrong. They could do it, thanks to improving bench play.
10. Atlanta Hawks
Highly doubtful nucleus of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and others remains if postseason doesn’t give fans something unusual to cheer about.
11. Dallas Mavericks
Time for somebody to slap them and yell “breathe.” Otherwise, Dirk Nowitzki and company will be one-and-done when it comes to championships.
12. Denver Nuggets
Danilo Gallinari and bench seem to have rediscovered early-season swagger. Nobody wants to meet them in playoffs.
13. New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony playing better than at any other time with Knicks. Will it be enough for a first-round upset?
14. Philadelphia 76ers
Looking better than they did three weeks ago, but still not as lethal as at start of season. Hard to know what to expect in playoffs.
15. Utah Jazz
Sudden return of cohesiveness and big-shot ability makes them potential postseason threat. Jazz fans can mostly thank Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, as well as improved Gordon “Wet Willie” Hayward.
16. Orlando Magic
After Magic lost Dwight Howard, league should have awarded final Eastern playoff spot to Milwaukee.
17. Phoenix Suns
If this is Steve Nash’s final season with Suns, he clearly won’t go quietly.
18. Houston Rockets
Stayed in playoff race until bitter end despite few giving them a chance. Couple of draft picks and offseason free-agent signing should provide lift they need.
19. Milwaukee Bucks
Backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings fell just short of playoff berth. Only question left is whether Scott Skiles returns as coach.
20. Portland Trail Blazers
Deserve credit for not completely collapsing when they had every reason to. Wonder what the roster will look like next season.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves
Kevin Love is league MVP of teams that failed to make playoffs. Hopefully for Wolves’ sake, Ricky Rubio returns in near-mint condition.
22. Detroit Pistons
Brandon Knight worthy of all-rookie team. Greg Monroe belongs on fictional all-second-year team. Two very good places to start.
23. Golden State Warriors
Still wondering if hiring Mark Jackson and trading for Andrew Bogut were good decisions. Not exactly how you want to enter 2012-13.
24. New Jersey Nets
Last week we’ll say “New Jersey” before their nickname. Will the Brooklyn years be better?
25. Toronto Raptors
Need something to get excited about this offseason. Maybe it’ll be Jonas Valanciunas.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers
A different team with Kyrie Irving on the floor. Just imagine if they land a shooting guard to join him.
27. Sacramento Kings
Good news: Offseason changes are likely on the way. Better news: DeMarcus Cousins has arrived.
28. New Orleans Hornets
Took crucial first step in finding an owner (Tom Benson). Up next: Draft immediate help and re-sign Eric Gordon.
29. Washington Wizards
Laughable early, got better at the end. Still in dire need of a difference-maker in the draft.
30. Charlotte Bobcats
Should receive extra pingpong balls in draft lottery hopper not because they finished last, but because of how disgraceful they looked getting there.