What a dunk contest! I know it was a week ago and there are still the skeptical, but Aaron Gordon and Zach Lavine put on a show. To top it off, their dunks may not have even been The Dunk of All Star Weekend. That was arguably 6'1 "professional dunker" Jordan Kilganon.
That dude got up! Now, although the Western Conference scored an all time record 196 points, who really cares about the All Star Game? It really serves its most important function as a reminder of the unofficial midway point of the NBA season and a precursor to the NBA trade deadline. Even though the break is over, here's a run down on all 30 NBA teams and where they stand at the All Star break. You'll see each team's current conference standing along with their point differential, games behind the 8th or 1st seed, and my pre-season ranking.
15. Philadelphia 76ers: 8-45 (-10.2 diff, 19 GB of 8th Seed) (Preseason - 15.)
The Sixers aren't surprising anyone. The only question is how long this rebuilding process will last. After starting this season 1-30, Philly has since gone 7-15 after acquiring new point guard Ish Smith. Despite Sauce Castillo's best efforts, however, don't expect much improvement from this squad.
14. Brooklyn Nets - 14-40 (-7.3 diff, 13.5 GB) (Preseason - 10.)
The Nets have been one of the most poorly run franchises of the last few years. A real slap in the face to Russian oligarchy. They could rival the Browns for ineptitude. The Nets fired their coach and re-assigned their GM just after the turn of the year. Besides possibly trading some players at the deadline this week, there's really nothing to see here. Nothing to see in their draft either as Boston owns their unprotected 2016 1st round pick.
13. Milwaukee Bucks - 22-32 (-4.7 diff, 5.5 GB) (Preseason - 7.)
The Deer have taken a step back this year. They have a very solid, very young core especially with the emergence of Khris Middleton as their leading scorer. My eyes are on Jason Kidd though. After some questionable actions as a coach in the past, Kidd did finish 3rd in Coach of the Year voting last season. However, Kidd missed 17 games this year due to hip surgery, during which the Bucks went 8-9 under interim coach Joe Prunty. A bit better than the 14-23 mark under Kidd.
12. New York Knickerbockers - 23-32 (-2.2 diff, 5 GB) (Preseason - 13.)
The New York Knicks remain the highest rated soap opera in the NBA. I guess besides wherever Dwight Howard is playing. The season started with hopes rising due to the brilliant play of Zingis "Kristaps Porzingis" Khan, a rookie from Latvia that came on quicker than many suspected and turned the draft day boos into woo hoos from Knicks fans. The Knicks are just 5 games back of a playoff spot but last week saw the surprise firing of Derek Fisher after the team dropped 9 of its last 10. Now with Phil Jackson disciple and 80's nerd icon Kurt Rambis as the interim coach, it will be interesting to see how the Knicks do post All Star Break. Although the rumors of trading Carmelo seem far-fetched, there are whispers that the Knicks may move players before the trade deadline. Update: The Knicks made no trades but are giving former BYU shooter Jimmer Fredette a shot.
11. Orlando Magic - 23-29 (-1.4 diff, 3.5 GB) (Preseason - 12.)
Orlando has not made the jump that some expected this year but it is still a bit soon to be thinking of making major shake-ups to the roster at this time. This team needs to be patient and let their players develop as they will. Even if they miss the playoffs this year, they are headed in the right direction. Aaron Gordon's spectacular Slam Dunk Contest performance probably buys the fan capital they need to survive this year's disappointment. Update: The Magic did indeed trade Tobias Harris to the Detroit Pistons for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova.
10. Washington Basketball Team - 23-28 (-2.7 diff, 3 GB) (Preseason - 4.)
The Wizards are surprisingly on the outside of the playoff race looking in. They're only 3 games back though and Bradley Beal is rounding into form after returning from a leg injury (his 4th tibia related issue in his 4th season) and John Wall (20.0 ppg, 9.9 apg) is close to becoming just the 4th player since 1990 (9th overall) to average 20 ppg and 10 apg in one season. He'd be the first player besides Chris Paul to do so since 1991. Impressive feat. Update: The W's gave up a 1st round pick (top 9 protected) to get a proven player who has caused locker room issues since his twin brother was traded in the off-season. Let the Markieff Morris era begin.
9. Detroit Pistons - 27-27 (+1.3 diff, 1/2 GB) (Preseason - 14.)
That twin brother, Marcus Morris, was traded to the Detroit Pistons who are still rebuilding but have surprised many by making a strong case for the playoffs. Andre Drummond is a physical force and leads the league in double-doubles this year. Reggie Jackson was probably not going to fit in OKC but he has really shown up in Detroit, leading the team in points and assists while relegating Brandon Jennings (coming off of a torn achilles) to backup duties. Stan Van Gundy is proving himself an effective general manager as well. Update: Detroit traded Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova to budding Magic star Tobias Harris in a move making Detroit's one of the more enviable rosters in the conference.
8. Charlotte Hornets - 27-27 (+1.1 diff, -11.5 GB of 1st Seed) (Preseason - 11.)
The Charlotte Jordans are hanging on precariously to the 8th seed. Important because the playoffs were a stated goal for this team in the preseason. Charlotte's just not very exciting. They have some good talent and I think a good coach, but they really need a superstar. Kemba isn't a Number 1 guy on a title team. Update: After rumors they were involved in a Dwight Howard trade, the Hornets made one much more under the radar by sending P.J. Hairston to the Grizzlies for Courtney Lee.
7. Chicago Bulls - 27-25 (-.7 diff, 11 GB of 1st) (Preseason - 2.)
Oh the Bulls. My, what Chicago fans must think of the mess their franchise is in. They fired a winning coach in Tom Thibodeau and replacement Fred Hoiberg is not cutting it. Locker room issues have plagued the Bulls since reports first came out in December. They were favorites to challenge the Cavs for the East but they'll need to show great improvement if they want to win even round 1 of the playoffs.
6. Indiana Pacers - 28-25 (+2.2 diff, 10.5 GB of 1st) (Preseason - 8.)
The Pacers have one of the better head coaches in the NBA and the Paul George at power forward experiment has worked in part because George isn't really playing the 4 spot. It's described as something like "positionless" basketball and as teams adapt to changing trends, you will see that more. These positions are for the casual fan anyway. George still doesn't seem completely sold but he will do what is asked of him. The Pacers are still a player or two away although rookie big man Myles Turner is intriguing.
5. Miami Heat - 29-24 (-.3 diff, 9.5 GB of 1st) (Preseason - 3.)
The Heat have been fine this year but they are currently dealing with pretty serious issues. One year after being hospitalized with blood clots in his lungs, Miami superstar Chris Bosh reportedly may have a blood clot in his leg. Health comes before just about everything so we wish that crazy dinosaur gets well soon. Update: The Heat sent the Birdman, Chris Anderson, to Memphis and got Brian Roberts back in a 3 team trade involving the Baltimore Orioles. Oh wait, wrong Brian Roberts.
4. Atlanta Hawks - 31-24 (+2.7 diff, 8.5 GB of 1st) (Preseason - 6.)
The Hawks are right where they probably belong but there was a lot of talk around the trade deadline that they were just going to start over. Al Horford, one of the bigger free agents of 2016, was rumored to be on the trading block along with Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver. That's the way of the NBA these days when you're best player is about to be a free agent. Update: The ATL traded Shelvin Mack and Justin Holliday for Kirk Hinrich and saved a little bit of money.
3. Boston Celtics - 32-23 (+4.2 diff, 7.5 GB of 1st) (Preseason - 9.)
Boston has come on strong as of late to find themselves surprisingly leading the big pack behind Cleveland and Toronto in the East. Credit must go to former Butler wunderkind coach Brad Stevens and a group of young players, lacking a star, but complementing each other really well. With draft picks (including Brooklyn's unprotected 1st in '16), and salary cap space, the Celtics could really change their fortunes in the coming years if they pick up a superstar or two.
2. Toronto Raptors - 35-17 (+4.4 diff, 3 GB of 1st) (Preseason - 5.)
With the emergence of All Star DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors have shot up to the number 2 spot in the East behind mighty Cleveland. It is yet to be seen if they can seriously contend with Cleveland, but Dwane Casey has cemented himself as a legitimate NBA head coach.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers - 38-14 (+5.9 diff, -) (Preseason - 1.)
I wrote about the Cavs big shake-up here and Tyronn Lue is doing fine albeit with a few bumps on the road. It was fun to imagine Carmelo Anthony replacing Kevin Love in Cleveland but that was always a case of the media making much ado about nothing. Kevin Love has been frustratingly inconsistent this year, but he's a big man that can rebound and shoot, an important weapon against the Warriors and Spurs of the world. The Cavs can use bench depth and some shooters so they may make some lesser trades.
Update: Cavs traded fan favorite and Mr. Hero spokesman Anderson "Sideshow Bob" Varejao to Portland in a 3 team trade netting them Channing Frye. Although Varejao can give quality minutes as a role-playing big man, this saves some money and nets them a 6'11 guy that can shoot outside and apparently plays solid defense. It may be concerning that after Portland waived Varejao that both the Warriors and Spurs both made strong plays to sign him but there is evidence that the Frye pick-up may make a difference for the Cavaliers.
15. Los Angeles Lakers: 11-44 (-9.6 diff, 16.5 GB 8th Seed) (Preseason - 11.)
The major story line for the Lakers this year has been Kobe's final season. After that it has been a discussion of whether or not the Lakers are purposefully tanking and is Byron Scott destroying D'Angelo Russell's development. Good news for Lakers fans on both those fronts. Although a beloved member of the 80's Showtime Lakers, Byron Scott's coaching prowess leaves much to be desired which has helped the Lakers into the number 2 position for franchise savior Ben Simmons of LSU by way of Australia. And just yesterday, Scott announced that D'Angelo Russell will start the rest of the season after saying the same for 2014 1st round pick Julius Randle of Kentucky.
14. Phoenix Suns: 14-40 (-6.3 diff, 13 GB) (Preseason - 13.)
Jeff Hornacek, who was once traded away from Phoenix in the deal that brought Sir Charles to town, was fired earlier this month. Not sure why the Suns had much hope with this roster but after a 2-19 run, Hornacek was out and former UCLA guard Earl Watson took the interim title. To be frank, the Suns' front office seems to have no idea what they're doing or which way they're headed. Update: They did trade the unhappy Markieff Morris.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: 17-37 (-3.6 diff, 10 GB) (Preseason - 9.)
The T-Wolves have been a bit of a disappointment but their future is bright with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Kevin Garnett has 1 more year left on his contract and it should be fun to see him do a Kobe type farewell next year but on a team that should be contending for the playoffs. Minnesota has some strong young talent including the ever improving Zach LaVine, the back to back slam dunk champ.
12. New Orleans Pelicans: 20-33 (-3.0 diff, 6.5 GB) (Preseason - 7.)
The Pels have probably been a bigger disappointment than Minnesota. After barely making the playoffs last year, New Orleans has faltered this year under new head coach Alvin Gentry. Injuries have played a part but perhaps the pressure got to the players. The next big thing, Anthony Davis, is having another great year, but hasn't gotten his team to take the next step. He is only 22 though. Update: Anthony Davis became the 3rd player in 50 years, joining Wilt and Shaq, to score at least 50 points and grab at least 20 rebounds in game with 59 & 20 last night in a victory. Perhaps there is still hope this year.
11. Denver Nuggets: 22-32 (-2.9 diff, 5 GB) (Preseason - 15.)
The Nuggets have done a little better than I expected which may be a testament to new coach Mike Malone, who was confusingly let go by Sacramento early in the 2014 season. They may have the coach in place but it will take a couple years to see if they can really make some noise barring free agency developments. Update: The Nuggets traded backup guard Randy Foye to Oklahoma City. Foye learned of the trade through the NBA app!
10. Sacramento Kings: 22-31 (-2.0 diff, 4.5 GB) (Preseason - 10.)
This is what I said in my Season Preview: "This could be the biggest dumpster fire in NBA history or George Karl might somehow have this team contending for the 8th spot." Can it be that both are coming true? The behind the scenes turmoil has not been scant as multiple times there have been reports that George Karl is going to be fired only for the team to announce on February 9th that he will stay on. This was pretty much at the same time that it was reported that the team's minority owners are trying to wrest control away from majority owner, Vivek Ranadive. Long live the Kings!
9. Houston Rockets: 27-28 (-1.8 diff, .5 GB) (Preseason - 6.)
The Rockets are out of the playoff seeding right now and perhaps their woes started after the unexpected firing of Coach Lurch McHale early in the season. Their season is pretty well summed up with recent reports that Dwight Howard and James Harden maneuvered to get each other traded. That happened after the end of the 2014 season but wouldn't you know it, Howard was allegedly on the trading block in recent weeks. Houston, we have a problem. Update: The Rockets tried to trade Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton to Detroit for Joel Anthony and a 1st round pick but it may be voided due to a back injury.
8. Utah Jazz: 26-26 (+1.4 diff, 22 GB 1st Seed) (Preseason - 8.)
The Jazz improvised after losing Dante Exum for what was to be a very important development year for the former # 5 overall pick in the 2014 draft. Rodney Hood, the former Duke product, has emerged in his 2nd year and Utah is fighting for the playoffs. Update: Utah traded a 2nd round pick for Shelvin Mack who may overtake Trey Burke for the backup point guard spot. Mack was a college teammate of the Jazz' leading scorer, Gordon Hayward.
7. Portland Trail Blazers: 27-27 (+.6 diff, 22 GB of 1st) (Preseason - 14.)
Dame Lillard is deserving of all the endorsements and praise and respect for his rap songs. After being snubbed for the All Star Game, Lillard may really take it up a level. He and CJ McCollum have brought the Blazers mostly back from the large hole LaMarcus Alrdridge left them in. Update: The Blazers traded a future 2nd round pick to get Anderson Varejao and a conditional 1st round pick pretty much just to reach the minimum salary cap threshold. Also on Friday, Damian Lillard scored a career high 51 points to lead Portland over Golden State, 137-105, handing the Warriors their worst loss of the season by far.
6. Dallas Mavericks: 29-26 (-.9 diff, 20.5 GB of 1st) (Preseason - 12.)
The Mavs are doing better than I projected and a lot of that credit should probably go to Rick Carlisle, their coach. No one really jumps out on their roster in terms of having a career year. Zaza Pachulia was almost voted into the All Star game, helped by his home country of Georgia and a vine star and Dirk became the 6th player in NBA history to reach 29,000 points this past weekend. Those will be the highlights for Dallas this year.
5. Memphis Grizzlies: 31-22 (-.9 diff, 17.5 GB of 1st) (Preseason - 5.)
With Marc Gasol out indefinitely due to a broken foot, Memphis is down in the dumps. Fear not fans of ludicrous characters. After making some trades last week, Memphis' roster now boasts Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Matt Barnes, Chris Anderson, and Lance Stephenson. Here's a link to how Twitter reacted. My favorite is the suggestion that these Grizz give up hoops and just form a horrorcore rap group. Update: Memphis traded Jeff Green for Lance Stephenson and a 1st round draft pick and got Chris Anderson in the Courtney Lee trade.
4. Los Angeles Clippers: 35-18 (+3.9 diff, 13.5 GB of 1st) (Preseason - 3.)
It all came to a head for the Clippers on January 25th, when Blake Griffin fractured his punching hand after hitting his friend and team employee. Griffin was to be out 4-6 weeks seriously hurting L.A's positioning in the playoff race during that time. Rumors flew of Griffin being traded although as usual, nothing came of it. L.A. still has talent but inconsistency has plagued them this year. Update: L.A. traded Lance Stephenson for Jeff Green in a move that many have panned but gives the Clips someone to pick up those all important Blake Griffin minutes.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder: 40-14 (+8.2 diff, 9 GB of 1st) (Preseason - 4.)
Oklahoma City is what happens when an Unstoppable Force and an Immovable Object are teammates. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will go down in history as one of the greatest teammate duos of all time. That they may never win a title together, is the story no one wants to write. The Thunder have solidified themselves as the Next Team in the West after Golden State and San Antone and many back them as the biggest threat to beating the Warriors in the playoffs. Everything depends on how great these 2 can be. Update: The Thunder acquired solid guard Randy Foye in a trade with Denver. The Thunder were beaten effectively by a Cleveland team missing Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert, and Moe Williams Sunday afternoon, 115-92.
2. San Antonio Spurs: 45-8 (+13.3 diff, 3.5 GB of 1st) (Preseason - 2.)
There are 2 teams that are head and shoulders above everyone else this year. The shoulders are the Spurs. They've lost a couple more games than Golden State but they have a +13.3 point differential. The all time NBA record is 12.28 (1971-72 Lakers) so if the pace holds, this team will be very special. Even though they were blown out at Golden State by 30 points, the Spurs have 3 more attempts to see how they fare head to head against the Warriors. Perfect for Gregg Popovich to rest his starters and play head games.
1. Golden State Warriors: 48-4 (+12.5 diff, -) (Preseason - 1.)
The head is the Golden State Warriors who are playing better than even last year's historical rate. A perfect mix of solid moves in free agency and the draft along with the perfect timing of strong development has the Dubs in the most enviable position in the league. There's really not much to go into besides pointing out that this team started 24-0 under Luke Friggin' Walton (39-4 overall under Bill's kid). Over the next 2 months, as the playoff seeds take shape and the "real" NBA season starts, expect excitement and egos as we see who can dethrone the Warriors in the West and if the Cavs are good enough to defeat the team that comes out.